Friday, December 18, 2009

Ethical gifts at the last minute

by Shae

I love the idea of making beautiful, handcrafted items for friends and family for Christmas and birthdays, I just don’t seem to get around to it. A few days before the event, I start hatching a plan that requires time and skills that are in short supply. Instead I look for things that other people have made that I can quickly send to friends and family in the US and Australia. Here are a couple of my favorite gift ideas that also support worthwhile projects.

Donation gifts

Many non-profit organisations these days have an option for you to buy donations. Oxfam Unwrapped lets you ‘purchase’ a gift, such as a cow, for your grandmother, who then receives a card (not the cow) indicating the donation made in her honour. The purchase helps support Oxfam’s advocacy and international development work.

Fair trade

Numerous websites and shops carry fair trade goods that are designed to provide income directly to the producers, bypassing middlemen. For example, check out U-Chus and Global Exchange. A few fair trade companies aim to provide fashionable, designer products that are also environmentally-friendly and made under ethical conditions. See People Tree and Indigenous Designs. If there's a particular product you want to get someone, like a pair of shoes or some clothing or a bag, you could also try searching online for that product and 'fair trade' - there are lots of great online stores out there.


The International Labor Rights Forum compiled a list of clothing and footwear manufacturers that are unionized or worker cooperatives in its Shop with a Conscience Guide. For a list of companies that have signed the Homeworkers Code of Practice in Australia, see this site. By signing the code, the company indicates its commitment to meeting standards for homeworkers that produce their goods in Australia.

Other ideas

There are also plenty of other gifts you can give that won't put a burden on the planet and will help support the workers who make them. You can give tickets to community events or concerts, handmade and hand-crafted gifts from Etsy, and locally-made gifts from markets like Unwrapped (on Dec 19th) Made on the Left and Perth Upmarket. There's also a Christmas Organic Growers Market on Wednesday 23rd at City Farm, which will have plenty of great last-minute gifts.

Whenever possible donate, recycle, upcycle, and support workers’ initiatives locally and globally. That way as well as giving gifts to your friends and family, you're also helping to make a better world.

Do you have other advice for last-minute ethical gifts? We'd love to hear your ideas and comments!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Celebrating Christmas Ethically: Do It Yourself

Christmas is a special challenge for those who are trying to live ethically. It's one thing to cut down on consumption in your own life, but quite another to skimp on others. I'm usually a fairly frugal and environmentally-conscious person (although of course there are glaring holes in my lifestyle, as with anyone). I mend my clothes, darn my socks, try to get my electronics second-hand, and generally try to think hard about any purchases that I make.

So when it comes to Christmas I always start with good intentions. But then, somehow, things get out of hand. It's hard to be frugal when it comes to the people that I love, and all my stern lectures to myself about the problems with showing love through Stuff tend to fade away as I find myself stepping out to brave the Christmas crowds.

I've been getting better: these days most of my presents come from Oxfam or other Fair Trade stores. There are some great options for buying presents ethically, which Shae's going to blog about soon.

I'm trying to be adventurous this year, though, and make as many presents as I can using recycled materials from around the house. I've been trawling the Internet for ideas that aren't too difficult and don't require that you go out and buy a heap of supplies. Here are a few:

CraftZine has some good ideas, including this run-down of a few of their easy projects. I especially liked the kids' crayon and sketchbook kit, because I think melted crayons are beautiful (image by wonderfully complex).

I also spent quite a while looking around Craft Bits: I rather like the mix-of-something-in-a-jar recipes and a few of the recycled craft ideas. If you've got a stack of old records sitting around the recycled vinyl rings and bangles might solve two problems at once.

One DIY project that I've tried out on previous Christmases is making origami boxes. There are plenty of instructions online, including on eHow and WonderHowTo. Last year I got a heap of old picture books from an op-shop and used the pages to make the boxes. You can fill the boxes with biscuits (I recommend spice cookies), handmade notebooks, re-melted crayons, or other treats (image from oschene).

If, like me, you enjoying fixing things, you might want to consider giving a coupon book. You can make coupons for servicing bicycles, darning socks, sewing on buttons, and the other little tasks that keep your things going for longer. Or for meals cooked, back massages, house-tidying, computer servicing, or whatever you can do and are happy to share. There are templates for coupon-books online, including on eHow. If you just happen to have a whole cupboard of paper scraps (luckily, I do!), you could use them to make a coupon book.

There are also some great recipes online for pickles and preserves. I'm rather partial to kimchi, and also quite like the look of Greek spoon sweets, although I'm not sure that my skills in the kitchen are up to producing edible versions of either!

Not everyone has time to make presents, but the DIY option is great if you do have the time and want to avoid the Christmas rush. It can also help make Christmas less of a burden on the environment, especially if you try to reuse and recycle rather than buying supplies new.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

World Vegan Day Picnic

Those of you who came to (or wanted to come to) the Politics of Food discussion group may want to attend World Vegan Day Picnic:

Tuesday, 13 October 2009 09:58

Join Animal Rights Advocates Inc. for a celebration of vegan food and culture on Sunday 1 November - World Vegan Day!

12-4pm, Sunday 1 November

Sir James Mitchell Park, South Perth

For more information, go to the Animal Rights Advocates website.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Resources on the Politics of Food

Many of the participants in the Politics of Food dinner and discussion shared ideas about food production, consumption and the ways in which we can become more responsible consumers and active citizens. Thank you to everyone who participated in the event.

I have begun to compile a list of resources based on the Politics of Food discussion. If you have resources to add to this list, please do so by posting a comment. Also, be sure and check out the recommended reading list, which appears in a previous blog post.

Fresh Food Markets in Western Australia Women’s Health Services compiled this list earlier this year. New this week is the Subiaco Farmers Market at Subiaco Primary School.

Fremantle Environmental Resource Network (FERN) is a non-profit community organisation dedicated to knowledge-sharing about living sustainably. FERN is based at the community garden space on the corner of High street and Montreal Street in Fremantle, Western Australia.

Living Smart is a community environmental education program that empowers participants with the knowledge and skills to take action to improve the sustainability of their homes and their community.

The Meeting Place
provides adult community education, community support and is home to the Fremantle Volunteer Service.

Animal Rights Advocates is a volunteer-run not for profit animal rights organisation based in Perth, Western Australia that campaigns for the abolition of animal exploitation.

Australian City Farms and Community Gardens

The Institute for Food and Development Policy/Food First
seeks to shape how people think by analyzing the root causes of global hunger, poverty, and ecological degradation and developing solutions in partnership with movements working for social change.

Slow Food International

Monday, October 5, 2009

Guest Speakers, The Politics of Food

We currently have three speakers lined up for The Politics of Food. Each speaker will give a brief introduction to the issues they're concerned with, and participate in the discussion that follows. Our speakers are:

Lynn MacLaren, MLC, The Greens (WA)
Lynn's work spans a wide range of portfolios, including food and GMOs. She has recently been active in campaigning against changes to WA's agricultural policy which allow the introduction of GM crop trials.

Louise Edmonds, Coconvenor, Fremantle Environmental Resource Network
Louise will be speaking about her personal education surrounding the politics of food, including her experiences visiting farms in India and working with Dr Vandana Shiva. She will also give a brief introduction to FERN's work.

Sky Croeser, UWA, Bluestocking Institute
I will be giving a short guide to the complex relationship between our choices as consumers and the global structures of food production.

While each speaker will introduce some fascinating points for discussion, ultimately the evening depends on your participation. We hope that everyone who comes down will feel comfortable talking about their own experiences and areas of expertise, and asking questions of others. Hope to see you there!

Good, clean and fair: small, slow food in a big food nation

Those of you coming to our 'Politics of Food' event may also be interested in a talk the evening before by Carlo Petrini, organised by Slow Food Perth.

CARLO Petrini, Slow Food’s founder and international president, will deliver a free public lecture at the University of Western Australia during a one-day visit to Perth. Hear the man described by The Guardian as ‘one of the 50 people who could save the planet’ – and a Time European hero – talk about ‘good, clean and fair’ food and the challenges that face the world of food.

Date: 14th October, 2009
Time: 5:00pm for 5:15pm
Venue: MCS Lecture Theatre, University of Western Australia Crawley campus [nearest carpark No. 14, off Fairway, or along Myers Street]

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Food for Thought

We've put together a list of articles and papers that might be interesting of those of coming along to 'The Politics of Food' discussion group. Of course, there's no requirement that you read any of these. We don't necessarily agree with everything written in these articles, but hope they will give you some new ideas, and starting-points for discussion. Feel free to leave any comments here or on the event's facebook group.

Amartya Sen, 'The Rich Get Hungrier'

Elaine Lipson, 'Food, farming...feminism?'
This article discusses some reasons for women to consider supporting organic food and organic farming.

Penny Van Esterik, 'Gender and sustainable food systems: a feminist critique'
Esterik looks at how a feminist analysis can help us to understand the food system.

Mark Bittman, 'What's wrong with what we eat'
"In this fiery and funny talk, New York Times food writer Mark Bittman weighs in on what's wrong with the way we eat now (too much meat, too few plants; too much fast food, too little home cooking), and why it's putting the entire planet at risk."

Asha Bee Abraham and Sophie Gaballa, 'Food Miles: a preliminary study of Melbourne, Victoria'
This study
estimates the distances travelled for food items found in a typical Melburnian's shopping basket and the resulting greenhouse emissions from this transportation. (There's also a critique of the study here.)

'Food waste in Australia'
"Australians are throwing out three million tonnes of food every year – the equivalent of 145 kilograms for each and every one of us. That’s why Notebook: magazine has embarked on a Stop Food Waste! campaign that aims not only to raise awareness of the issue but offers practical solutions on how to plan, shop and cook to eliminate unnecessary food waste."

Anna Kellogg, 'The Hunger Challenge: how to eat on $3 a day'
Bloggers, activists, and US members of Congress have been taking up 'The Hunger Challenge' every year since 2007 - trying to live on the same amount that Americans on food stamps are given each week.

Margarita Windisch, 'The Politics of Food'
This article looks at rising food costs in Australia.

Raj Patel, 'Apartheid in America'
This post looks at the conditions for tomato-pickers in Florida, many of whom are immigrants. Patel says that the conditions they are living in are worse than those in South African townships during apartheid. As well as terrible conditions and low wages, over 1000 people have been freed from slavery in the area since 1997.

Wayne Roberts, 'Bittersweet Valentines'
An introduction to what fair trade chocolate means for those who produce it.

Julian Cribb, Yvonne Latham and Maarten Ryder, 'Desert delicious: Indigenous Australian foods for the global palate'
A brief overview of the emerging Australian indigenous foods industry.

Food Culture and Religion
Food is an important part of religious observance and spiritual ritual for many faiths including Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. This is a sample of some ways in which various religious groups include food as a vital part of their faith.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Real Food Forum

Those of you who are interested in our 'Politics of Food' event may also want to attend the Real Food Forum, which has been organised by the Greens:

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Politics of Food: dinner and discussion

The next discussion in our Community Scholars programme will look at 'the Politics of Food'. It will be held on October 15th, from 6:30 until 8pm at the Edmund Rice Centre in Fremantle.

The Bluestocking Institute's Community Scholars Discussion Group brings together experts from inside and outside academia, encouraging cross-fertilisation across disciplines and between local, national, and global perspectives. Discussion Groups aim to develop dialogue in a relaxed atmosphere, and address issues of peace and justice.

'The Politics of Food' will be explore some of the ethical and political questions surrounding what we eat, how we eat, and how we produce food. These include:

* What is the role of food in bringing together communities, or holding them apart?
* How can we produce food ethically and sustainably?
* Can movements promoting 'slow food' and organic farming meet the needs of those on a low income?
* Can urban food production and community gardens help to feed the world?

We encourage people from all walks of life to join us for dinner and discussion. Whether you're involved in academia, activism, or just have a personal interest in the politics of food, you're welcome to join us. We encourage you to bring a plate to share, and to begin the discussion: are you vegetarian? Vegan? Do you try to 'eat local'? Do you have food that is important to your community? Are you too busy too cook?

Eating together has always been an important part of building communities: please help us to build a vibrant dialogue around the politics of what we eat.

You can join the discussion on the Facebook group, or stay tuned to this blog for readings and ideas for further discussion.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Ethical school uniforms

Ever wondered who makes school uniforms or the conditions under which those uniforms are made?

FairWear reports that school uniforms are made by some companies in Australia who are accredited to the Homeworkers Code of Practice and have had their supply chain checked for compliance to wage and occupational health and safety requirements, others are made in factories who are not accredited and have not been monitored, while others are made in sweatshops or by homeworkers for very low rates of pay, and without the legal entitlements such as superannuation and holiday pay.

FairWear is gathering information about the working conditions under which school uniforms are produced. If you are a student, parent or teacher, send the following details to : school name, number of students, item of clothing, brand, where it was made, where it was bought and price (optional).

This information will help FairWear get more Australian manufacturers accredited to the Homeworkers Code of Practice, and get more schools choosing to source their uniforms from accredited companies wherever possible.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Global Studies seminar

Announcing a new seminar organised by the Australian Global Studies Research Centre

Debating the free market in an age of insecurity

Featured speakers include Professor Webster and Dr. Bezuidenhout, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, Professor Lambert, UWA Business School, and Professorial Fellow Carmen Lawrence, UWA’s Institute of Advanced Studies.

When: Tuesday, 18 August 2009, 5:30-7:00pm
Where: Ernst & Young Lecture Theatre, UWA Business School, Crawley WA

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Who Shapes Our Fears? David Marr Lecture

CASE for Refugees and CARAD Coalition for Asylum Seekers, Refugees and Detainees will be holding their annual community forum, with David Marr as their 2009 inaugural speaker.

Who Shapes our Fears?
The role governments, oppositions and the press play in alarming Australians about refugee boats.

DAVID MARR writes about politics, law and the arts for the Sydney Morning Herald. He has also
presented ABC TV’s Media Watch and written a number of books including a biography of Patrick White and (with his Herald colleague Marian Wilkinson) Dark Victory, an account of Australia’s blockade of refugee boats during the 2001 election campaign. Refugee issues have been a focus of his work for a number of years.

Monday 31 August 2009 6.30pm
Christ Church Grammar School
Centre for Ethics
Senior Common Room
Queenslea Drive, Claremont
Cost: Entry is by Donation

Monday, July 27, 2009

Meaningful work

I’ve started compiling a list of resources for people interested in working in the non-profit/non-governmental sector – this includes volunteer positions, paid employment or maybe you just want to learn more about organisations aimed at creating social change. This is a preliminary list, so feel free to add more by posting a comment. - Includes jobs, volunteer opportunities, internships and events
Global charity jobs – Based in the UK, includes listings for jobs worldwide
Devzone – Based in New Zealand, includes listings for jobs worldwide esp. in Pacific region.
Foundation Center – Mostly management positions with US-based non-profit organisations.
Ethical Jobs - Job listings for Australian NGOs. Not many resources yet, but more to come.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Bluestockings @ Barcamp

This Saturday Perth's 3rd BarCamp will be held at Central Tafe. BarCamps are "user generated conferences — open, participatory workshop-events, whose content is provided by participants", which have a history of focusing on technology but can also be adapted to other issues.

The only other BarCamp I've attended was Bangalore BarCamp 5, and it was great. I went to sessions on social technology, community mesh networks, blogging, and low-budget films, and met a heap of fascinating people.

I haven't been to a BarCamp in Perth yet, so I've no idea what to expect, or what to contribute. Hopefully some of you will come down and bring some ideas.

UPDATE: my post about BarCamp is up over at witty title pending.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

What does feminism mean to you?

My 15 year old cousin asked me on the weekend 'How come you knit and sew and cook and stuff even though you're a feminist?'

I would love to live in a world where that was a surprising and naive question. Instead, I've come across the same assumption over and over again: being a feminist means eschewing anything to do with traditional femininity. Someone told me recently: "I'm not a feminist because I enjoy being able to stay at home with my children". I wish I'd been shocked.

I came across a similar assumption today in a new and unexpected place: in's critique of Ridiculous Life Lessons From New Girl Games. While I entirely agree with the author's complaints that most of these games teach girls to focus on fashion and adventures, it seems that games can only win approval for teaching girls to engage in "non-stereotypically female activities" or to have "masculine qualities".

For me, feminism is about valuing qualities and activities that have traditionally been associated with both masculinity and femininity. I love having a place in academia, being able to teach and present my research. A hundred years ago, that would have been hard for a woman. I also love being able to make and fix things with my hands, whether it's crocheting a scarf or adjusting my bicycle gears. I want a world in which men and women (and those who don't fit our gender binaries) can choose to engage in 'caring work', where people have the same opportunities in the workplace and in the rest of their lives, no matter what gender they are.

Women in the West have it relatively easy, compared to women (and men) in the rest of the world, but we're not there yet. Women get paid less than men, mothers are less likely to be hired and are paid less, and a myriad of subtle gender structures shape and limit the possibilities that both men and women have available. For me, feminism is about changing this while connecting with and supporting other struggles throughout the world, including those in the Global South.

What does feminism mean for you?

Picture from Cross-stitch ninja.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Connecting to #iranelections

There's a lot of debate about the effects of new technologies. Some argue that 'the kids today' only have three second attention spans because of video games and facebook, others think that science will save us from climate change and help us enter a new utopia. Personally, I see new technologies as contested spaces: they open up new possibilities, and different groups struggle to find ways to use them and control them.

I wasn't going to get drawn in to following the aftermath of the Iran elections. My PhD is coming to an end, I have chapter edits to do, bibliographies to tidy, a paper to write for a conference, a million tiny tasks that need to be completed all at once. Then I started following Change_for_Iran on Twitter.

It's hard not to get involved when you watch things unfold step by step. Change for Iran is a student, I think another postgraduate, and has been blogging about being under seige:
"I'm praying to GOD they leave us be! we should get Reza to a hospital Asap, he has some bad wounds. "
"Reza is looking very bad & they will shoot at us again if we try to leave here."

And, interspersed with all of that, the kind of things any student frets about:
"my head is spinning and Masood is killing me with the importance of his thesis files"
"our final exams date & time hasn't changed! according to university's head, everything is just fine!"
"shayan is studying for tomorrow's exam! I'm speechless!"

And then:
"Kasra is dead & I don't know where is masood, lost him in the crowd yesterday"
"there is no need to hide their names anymore Mobina Ehtrami, Fateme Borati, Kasra Sharafi, Kambiz Shoaee & Mohsen Imani; all killed by ansar"

Throughout all of this the connection to the outside world is so important.
"typing as fastest as I can in both English & Farsi, Still we need outside help, I really don't want to be captured by Ansar"
"They are filtering everything! Gmail is blocked now!"
The student takes the time to reply to people's questions, even to reassure others that they're ok, even though they're exhausted and haven't slept in days.

I could have watched this on the news, but even the shocking pictures coming out of Iran wouldn't have connected with me as much as another student worrying about their thesis files.

As well as letting people on the ground get their stories out despite closed borders and state censorship, the Internet opens up new possibilities for people around the world to offer support. This can range from messages of support send to people's twitter accounts to attempts to provide technical support. There's a facebook page set up to help supporters overseas attack Ahmadinejad's websites, and quite a few people out there have also been setting up proxy servers that let Iranians evade state censorship and get their message out.

Of course, the Iranian government isn't taking it lying down. As well as blocking gmail, facebook, twitter, and other sites at various times, intelligence agencies are now watching twitter for new proxy sites and to try to work out the identities of those posting information.

The Internet opens up new possibilities, but not just for those groups we like. It allows those who are silenced to speak up and be heard, and it also lets oppressive regimes censor and watch their citizens. This is why it matters that we struggle to keep the Internet open and democratic, in Australia as well as overseas.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The politics of Swine Flu

I've been on a bit of a blogging hiatus lately, as my inbox was starting to tower over me in an increasingly threatening manner. Hopefully there'll be more coming soon, but for now I've posted something over on ActNow about the politics of Swine Flu(H1N1) that might be interesting for readers of this blog.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

What we carry

---------Please note that this blog discusses graphic violence, and may be disturbing----------

I met a man last week who lost his mother, his two young brothers, his two-year old sister, his aunts, his grandmother, and the rest of his family in the 1974 war in Cyprus. To say 'lost', actually, is a polite euphemism. More than thirty members of his family were murdered by extremists. Some were shot – executed. His two brothers were decapitated. They were just young boys, still children.

During the July1974 Greek military coup in Cyprus, this man's village was rounded up by Greek Cypriot soldiers and herded into makeshift prisons. The men of the village asked that the women, children, and elderly be released and allowed to return to their villages. The people holding them consented, and the groups were separated. He and his father, along with other men from his village in Cyprus, were moved to a prisoner camp in Lemesos, in Cyprus' south, where they were held for a little over two months. In the prison camp, he began hearing stories that something terrible had taken place in one of the Turkish Cypriot villages near his home, where an entire village of women, children, and elderly were murdered and buried in pits. When he asked for details, his fellow-prisoners would fall silent.

Not having heard anything from his family for the entire period of his detention, this man – then a boy of sixteen – returned home to find his village empty. 'Only the dogs were left in the village', he said. The village the men in the prison camp had spoken of was his. The entire village was rounded up and murdered. Many women and young girls were first raped. He does not know if his brothers had their heads cut off before or after they were killed. 'To know this is important', he says. I understand why. I have two brothers, and I cannot banish my horror.

Thirty five years later, the man is sitting next to a much younger Greek Cypriot man whose father was abducted by Turkish Cypriots, and along with six other men, brutally murdered and their bodies thrown into a well. On the other side of them sits an even younger Greek Cypriot woman whose uncle, an eighteen year old conscript due to finish his military service the day the war began in 1974, was also killed and his body 'disappeared'. Next to her is a Turkish Cypriot man whose father, a bank manager, was taken from his workplace, killed, and his body hurriedly buried. Beside them is a Greece Cypriot man who lost eighteen members of his family, killed by Turkish Cypriot paramilitaries. Between them, these five people carry more pain than is conceivable.

They have formed an organisation called the 'Bicommunal Initiative of Relatives of Missing and Tortured People and Victims of Massacres'. In very stark contrast to a great deal of Cypriot society on both sides of the political divide, they are asking to uncover the details of atrocities committed in Cyprus between the decade of 1963-1974. Thanks to the resumption of work of a long-stalemated UN-led committee mandated to find the remains of the some 2, 000 people killed during that period, some of the relatives of these victims have recently had the remains of their loved ones returned to them. The UN committee's mandate, however, is very narrow: find the bodies, establish their identity, return the remains. There is no answer for what happened to these people, or why.

Many people in Cyprus know that in the war both side committed atrocities both against the other community but also within their own community. A prominent Greek Cypriot politician, for example, was publicly accused recently of being a torturer for an extreme right-wing organisation called EOKA-B by one of his (Greek Cypriot) victims. The claim was documented and published by a Greek Cypriot journalist. The politician took the journalist to court for libel. The politician lost the case; the court found that the journalist had sufficient evidence for his claim – in other words, the court found sufficient evidence to support the claim that the politician had been engaged in torturing people in the early 1970s. Despite the first public finding (albeit accidentally) of a criminal case from 1974, no criminal prosecution was forthcoming, despite the fact that it is required by Republic of Cyprus law. The man remains in politics.

Very few people in this country are willing to talk openly about the past. No one, except for this victims' group and a small collection of other people, is interested in a systematic public examination and accounting of what has happened to us in the past. At the same time, Cyprus remains an unresolved conflict. Forty years of negotiations have failed to find a resolution to the political dispute between Greek and Turkish Cypriots, and the continued Turkish military presence (numbering some thirty-odd thousand soldiers) on the island. In 2004, a complete reunification package, negotiated behind closed doors, was rejected by the Greek Cypriot community, which felt that the proposed solution was not an adequate remedy to the consequences of the 1974 war. In honesty, I think neither community feels safe with the other.

The primary reason the families of these murdered people are asking a public examining of the past is not only because they seek to uncover the stories that have remained hidden in society for so long, and for the exposure of those people who murdered their mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, daughters, sons, parents, and friends, but so that, in publicly uncovering those stories and those people, society can never say 'we didn't know' or 'it didn't happen'. Their hope is that in entering these terrible experiences into the public truth, society can guard against it ever happening again.

Today I am in Beirut, and again I am listening to people talk about the forced disappearance of people they love. Before me sits a Lebanese man who in 1987 was given over to the Syrian army and taken across the Lebanese border into Syria, where he simply 'disappeared' for thirteen years. The man next to him was disappeared in a similar way for twelve years. For the first six years, his family had no idea of his whereabouts. In his seventh and eighth years, his family found him. They were allowed to visit him once a year, for those two years. They were not sure, when they went to see him, whether they would be turned away at the gate, whether he had been moved, or whether he was still alive. The situation improved over the next four years to the point where in the last year of his captivity they could visit him four times. The Lebanese government, in so far as one existed, insisted for many years that there were no Lebanese prisoners in Syrian jails in either Syria or Lebanon. The Syrian government simply refused to reply when confronted with the question. So it was quite a mysterious thing when he, and the other men who shared his prison, were released unexpectedly one day some six years ago and simply re-appeared at the Lebanese border. Those men left behind compatriots who, if they have not since been killed, will have remained in Syrian prisons for more than twenty years. A president closed his eyes and pointed to a number from a list of prisons laid before him, and so these men were freed.

There are between 2000 and 17000 people in Lebanon who are the immediate victims of enforced disappearance. I mean to say that this number of people were actually disappeared. The number is so broad because no-one has conducted a proper, thorough and comprehensive study into the numbers of people missing; it does not seem to be in many people's interest here in Beirut, because, like in Cyprus and in many other places, yesterday's perpetrators are today's politicians and power-elite. Unlike in Cyprus, in this country no-one has even bothered to systematically excavate or protect suspected mass burial sites. Those sites which are dug up are bulldozed, and the bones which are by some miracle removed, have not yet made it back to a single family. In Beirut, you can walk over mass graves and you wouldn't even know.

Some years ago a law was passed in Lebanon which would allow the families of disappeared people to declare their loved ones dead so that they could clear up issues of inheritance and etcetera. The families to whom this law would apply reacted with outrage and deep hurt. 'In other countries, people are presumed alive until proven dead', said a man whose son and brother were both taken, on separate occasions. 'In this country, we declare them dead without even knowing where they went'. Another woman, whose teenage son was taken when he went out to buy bread, repeats over and over again how her son, missing now for fifteen years, will come home alive. 'He is handsome', she says, 'my boy is so handsome, you will see how he has grown into a beautiful man'. Another woman lost her three teenage children – sixteen, seventeen, and eighteen, all at once. They too, were taken randomly during the Lebanese civil war. In this country you trip over stories that are individually unbearable. A woman talks of her father, a professor, who was disappeared when she was eleven years old. 'I did not even get to share my adolescence with him'. She learned him, she said, through the eyes of his friends and his students, people who loved him. She has heard stories, rumours about the terrible things that might have befallen him, but she does not know for sure.

I watched a video at an NGO here in Beirut tonight alongside some of the families of disappeared people, and next to one of the men who were detained in Syria. As a point of fact, we are sitting in Hezbollah territory and the buildings around me are bullet-riddled and scarred by Israeli fire from 2006. The film was a documentary which followed the story of a man in Morocco, whose father was also disappeared. When his father was disappeared, the man in the documentary was eleven days old. Eventually the mass grave where his father was buried was uncovered, and the Moroccan authorities re-buried his father's bones, near the prison where he died. They tell this to the man, who quietly, with deep deep pain replies 'it's just that I would have liked to have been there for his burial. I have never seen my father, you see. It was important to me.' Two government men, presumably, look at him blankly from across the table.

At this point I can't bear to hear any more because I am thinking of my own father. I am almost thirty, and I have been blessed to have been brought up by two loving parents who are still young and vibrant people. I have so many memories with my family; trivial, important, sad, ridiculous, every-day beautiful moments that have stretched over twenty nine years that, for me, have been short. I couldn't collect them all together if I tried to. Just the thought of my father being tortured and killed, and thrown into a pit with thirty other men to rot under the sun because of his political affiliation, his ideological belief, his religion, or simply because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, is overwhelming and I cannot endure the imagining with any kind of calm. I cannot begin to imagine how this man feels who lost his father before he even knew him, who wanted only to be present at his father's burial.

I say all of this because Kate’s blog, below, prompted me to think about how peace is built. In societies with vastly different experiences and traumas, is there a single principle that can be drawn out?

In Australia, we live in an established and stable democracy at the national level. And yet, young people are asking how to build peace in their communities. And not long ago our then-prime minister John Howard ordered the Australian military into aboriginal communities because he, and his policy makers, believed that this was the best way to combat communal violence. Stability, peace, democracy, and safety is not something which all Australians enjoy. And before we distance ourselves too far from countries like Lebanon and Cyprus, whose stories are bloodied and violent, please remember that Australian Aboriginals in remote communities have life expectancies which are on par with the developed world.

And we have our own stories which are not told, our own truths which are silenced.

When my family first emigrated to Australia, it was to the Northern Territory that they went. My great-uncles moved to Darwin in the late 1940s. One of these uncles told a story to my father once that I now tell you. In those days, in the late forties and early fifties, my uncles were butchers. One day, I think it was a Sunday, they were working in the shop when someone they knew pulled up to the back door and invited my uncles to go hunting with them. My uncle asked what they were hunting. 'Boongs' was the answer. My uncle thought the man was joking. If this story is true, there were people who went hunting with the intention of shooting other people – Aboriginal people – as late as the 1950s. I have no way of verifying this story, it was a story told to my father many years ago, and if I asked my elderly uncle now, I don't know what he would say. I would be interested to know if anyone else has heard anything similar. If other people have heard similar stories, then why are we not talking about them? If I am alone, then I hope I will be forgiven. The obligation to tell this story was greater to me than the obligation not to.

I am thinking about the question Kate has tried to answer. I will add only two simple remarks. I think that empathy and a culture of debate and openness are key to building and sustaining peace in any society. Empathy because without being able to feel another person's pain, you can do terrible things, or accept the doing of terrible things to people. I live in a society where people do not relate to other people's suffering because their own traumas have not been addressed. You find in many post-war societies that have not confronted their past that people tend to be quite numb. When you are focused on your own victimhood, and your own wounds are festering, there is no space inside you to acknowledge another person, or community’s, pain. Abuse is easier to justify when you are angry, vengeful, or emotionally removed from another person's suffering. And a culture of debate and openness because without it, misunderstandings grow into prejudices, which have the potential to grow into racism, sexism, and bigotry, and to be manipulated by demagogues for their own gain. We need strong people in society who can think and question assumed truths and feel and grow. As for how to build this kind of culture in societies or communities which are deeply wounded, I have no answer.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Ask Aunty Bluestocking - Creating Community Cohesion

At the recent Really, Really Free Market, my colleague Sky took questions from visitors who wanted advice on a range of issues - hence 'Ask Aunty Bluestocking.' The question I have taken came from some young Aboriginal people who wanted to know how to bring and build peace in their community. Sky asked that this be elaborated to include advice on how non-Aboriginal people could help Aboriginal people to do this. The views below are my own, and not necessarily those of my colleagues, and can apply to all communities.

A lot of academic and political research has been done on this topic in the UK, where the government has been keen to implement social cohesion strategies to tackle escalating inter-ethnic and inter-communal violence. Whether rightly or wrongly, for there is a great deal of criticism of the government's approach and the media's response to these issues, some areas of these initiatives have merit and could be transposed to any social context. At the heart of it is recognising that community dislocation is rarely a function of race, religion or ethnicity, but of the meta-narratives of history, economics and politics; in short:power.

For the young people, and others, who want to bring peace to their communities, there are a number of steps to take and things to consider. First is to define key operational concepts.

1) Community: Which community is being referred to? The simple working concept/definition of community is a group unified by a common interest: people belong to multiple communities that might overlap or could be completely distinct. Determine which community you are thinking of because this will make it easier to strategise. One paper from the UK talks of the features and feelings of a community: there is a two way relationship between the individual and the community that looks something like the following:
  • Identity - community gives an individual a sense of belonging, and therefore identity and dignity, recognition and respect.
  • Responsibility - members of a community have a responsibility toward the wellbeing of other community members, and to the community itself.
  • Gratitude - This can be expressed in many ways and could include affection, love, sacrifice, positive criticism, and critical questioning.
  • Quarrels - Even in an harmonious community, differences of opinion occur: this in itself is not a problem, but the way in which a community responds to these quarrells is a sign of its health. A healthy commuinity will look for solutions through compromise and accommodation.
  • Symbols - symbols and ceremonies with shared, understood meaning.

2) Peace:

  • What is it about the community that is unpeaceful? Violence, disputes, disharmony, lack of respect for self and others, crime, unsettledness, differences of opinion?
  • What kind of peace are you trying to achieve? Remember that differences of opinion are healthy and learning to deal with them in a constructive manner are important to the growth of the community.
  • Who can help you bring peace? Is it something that can be done within the community or is a broader issue? i.e. is it a law and order issue that should involve mediators or the police.
  • Who is the conflict between? Is it between members of the community or between one community and another?

3) Peace building/conflict resolution: A three pronged approach were there is a circular relationship between all of the elements:

  • Actions to change attitudes and assumptions - recognising that conflict is often based on false attitudes and prejudices.
  • Action to reduce violence - remembering that this could be physical, verbal, mental and involve a range of actions including disrespect towards others and their property, criminal activities and actual physical harm.
  • Action to resolve or at least manage conflict.

The following are some strategies that I have come up with building upon the above;

  • Start by finding like minded people within your defined community. Talk to them and find out their concerns and come up with a positive plan for community cohesion.
  • Think about the types of action that you could use and whether you can acheive these independently - discussion groups, barbecues, festivals, letter writing, door knocks.
  • If you need help, start by identifying individuals and groups who could help you. It might be a person respected by the whole community, outside independent mediators, a government or non-government agency.
  • Develop networks of trust within and without the community? Who could you trust to help?
  • Devise a communication strategy to talk about these things within your community.
  • Do you know people in other communities who have been through this process? they could provide advice and guidance.

The second part of the question was on ways the non-Aboriginal community could help. My personal feeling is that the 'white' community in particular has approached this in both paternalistic and maternalistic ways, generally well meaning, but often coming off patronising: We need to break this mould. Our role should be to use our postion within the power structure to empower Aboriginal people to navigate these: think along the lines 'give a man a fish and he eats for a day; give him a fishing pole and he can eat for life.' My opinion is this:

  • We have to recognise and acknowledge the intelligence of Aboriginal people and share our knowledge and experiences with them.
  • Through this, we empower them to make their own decisions based on their own needs and experiences.
  • Accept that Aboriginal, and other disadvantged communities, face hurdles that are economic or power based - we should help them to overcome these not through handouts but by sharing resources and information: offer access to internet and other useful technologies, share research and other useful information, help establish contacts with useful people and groups.
  • Join them in fighting racism and prejudice; counter negative stereotypes and assumptions where and when you can.
  • Acknowledge our shared humanity.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Peace and Activism

Some of you might be interested in a new training program on peace and activism. Read on...The Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at Sydney University will be teaching an exciting new training course in the theory and practice of peace activism this year. The course will be taught in May-June over five intensive sessions (Fridays 10am-5pm). It will also include a 6 day trip to Queensland in July to participate in the Peace Convergence at the time of the 2009 Talisman Sabre US-Australian war exercises. Registration fee including travel from Sydney to Queensland is $500. For enquiries and registration contact or (02)9351 7686.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Meltdown: How to save jobs and the environment

Lately, Bluestocking has been discussing projects that explore positive community responses to the economic crisis. Hopefully we'll have something in the works soon, but until then we're going to try to keep you abreast of other events and projects that explore the issue. Meltdown is a forum run by Perth's Socialist Alliance:

How to save jobs and the environment

The economic crisis sweeping the globe raises the spectre of mass unemployment on a scale we haven’t seen for a long time. Already people are losing their jobs in WA. At the same time we face an environmental emergency that demands urgent action.

This forum will discuss pro-worker and pro-environment solutions.

Sam Wainwright (Socialist Alliance candidate for Fremantle)
Adele Carles (Greens candidate for Fremantle)

6.30pm Wed April 22
Fremantle Education Centre
Cantonment St (next to Clancy's)
Entry by donation.
Ph 0412 751 508 or

Friday, April 3, 2009

Stampede in New York and across the globe

On a cold November morning in 2008, hundreds of shoppers crowded outside of a Wal-Mart store in Long Island, New York, anxious to get the best deals in the post-Thanksgiving sales. When the doors opened, the crowd surged ahead desperate for a bargain. In the chaos and confusion that ensued, Jdimytai Damour, a security guard was trampled to death.

While the rest of the global economy is crashing, the discount giant is doing just fine. In fact, Wal-Mart sales exceeded US $374 billion in 2008. This is more than the combined GDP of Portugal, Malaysia, Venezuela, Pakistan and Egypt. Perhaps it is stretching the analogy too far, but Wal-Mart's power in the global economy (even in times of economic crisis) looks like a global stampede to me.

The Wal-Mart website touts all it is doing to make goods more affordable for (American) families hurt by the economic crisis. The International Labor Rights Forum is organising a campaign focused on Wal-Mart with its 60,000 suppliers worldwide. It’s worth checking out. It seems to me that now more than ever it’s time to address the power of large multinational corporations like Wal-Mart to drive prices – and wages - down and the impact this has on workers worldwide.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Bluestocking at the Really Really Free Market

Do you care about climate change, human rights violations, local urban design, or other issues at the local or global level that relate to peace and justice? Do you feel overwhelmed and helpless? If you care about an issue, large or small, and want to find out what to do about it, come to the Really Really Free Market this Sunday and the Bluestocking Institute will help.

Come find our stall, tell us what you care about, and we'll work out how you can do something about it. We'll post links and possibilities on our blog.

And if that's not enough to convince you, we'll be giving away home-made cookies too.

When: Sunday 5 April 2009, 3-6pm

Where: Hyde Park, South West Cnr (Throssell and Glendower), Perth

A Really, Really Free Market is like a giant potluck made up of useable items, skills, ideas, smiles, talents, friendship, excitement, discussions, and many other things that we as a community can come together and share.

A RRFM is a 100% free and non-commercial event, organized by participants just like you.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Images of the Recession

Slate has started Flickr group for readers to post photographs showing how the recession has affected them. There are some surprising and beautiful photos, not only of abandoned shopping malls (from senor miller):

the contents of evicted homes (from solodad300):

...but also of ways in which people are exploring positive responses to the crisis, like imericancrayon's new sewing project:

Bluestocking's VOICES project hopes to gather similar photos, as well as stories, essays, and artwork, looking at how the economic crisis is affecting people around the world.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Perth Praxis: Building Community Solidarity in Perth

One of the functions Bluestocking hopes to fulfill is to be another source for information on events coming up that fit in with our areas of interest. As the blurb for this event notes, life in Perth can feel quite isolated at times. Why not think more about how to build communities and get involved?


Join other concerned and free thinking community members on Friday March 27th at 7pm at the Earthwise Community Centre (317 Bagot Rd, Subiaco) for the first of many dinner and political discussion events.

Living in Perth can be suffocating. It's a city built mostly to sustain a mining boom, a ‘Perth min(e)d blank’, where often it feels like there are more roads than people, or at least people that will stop and talk to you. Similarly Perth’s political landscape can be isolating, Radical or progressive communities are often splintered or rely on the same twenty odd Anarchists and Socialists; therefore not many grass roots campaigns survive to see success.

Culturally you couldn’t be blamed for thinking that we're trying to emulate a Stalinist Gulag and one must dig deep to find any interesting independent arts and music.

In the end most free-thinkers, radicals, artists and others with a distaste for Perth’s conservative conventions tend to emigrate east, trading in our ‘good weather’ for a Brunswick cafĂ© strip or a Sydney Socialist scene. What’s all fine and good if you are only interested in activism and art as a lifestyle, but what about the rest of us, those who wish to create social change here in PERTH?

For thirty years we’ve been told that there is no alternative to Capitalism. We’ve been told that embracing free trade, deregulation and privatisation is the best and only way to run society.

Earlier this year the smoke ran out and the mirrors shattered. The Wall Street party was over and ordinary people were left to clean up the mess.

Of course many knew that at some point the mirror-ball was going to drop, the lights would stop flashing and a cold after party reality would begin to surface. That reality is now as clear as day: the system does not work. Already thousands of ordinary people across Australia have lost their jobs and homes. In the Third World, the daily struggle for survival is getting harder than ever. Meanwhile we are faced with some of the toughest social and environmental problems to face any generation; climate change, war and poverty require urgent global and local action from all of us.

History has taught us many lessons but above all it has taught us that we can never rely on our governments to act on our behalf. It is integral that we rebuild a radical community and movement in Perth to both confront the crisis of Capitalism whilst building social, environmental, cultural and economic alternatives.

Join other concerned and free thinking community members on Friday March 27th at 7pm at the Earthwise Community Centre (317 Bagot Rd, Subiaco) for the first of many dinner and discussion events - if you can please come to Earthwise from 4pm to help us cook the evening’s meal. Otherwise please bring food and drink to share at 7pm.

As a part of the event long time social justice activist Cedric Beidastch (PHD Candidate in History at UWA) will discuss ‘a radical democratic vision for long term social change’ as well as elaborating on the personal experiences that shaped his political thinking.

If you are sick and tired of being a frustrated spectator and want to be part of the solution – please come, bring your ideas, your questions, your family and you friends.

However if you believe the group you represent already knows all the answers and all you want to do is to recruit more people for your cause, then this gathering may not be for you. If on the other hand you want to start an open-minded quest for change, then come in droves!

Because the problems we face cannot be solved by the minds that created them.

NB: Please respect the nature of this gathering and do not hand out any political party based brochures or flyers on the night. There will be a table provided for activist/campaign propaganda.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Building Bridges

Following on from my recent reading of Gloria Anzaldua's Borderlands/La Frontera, I've been making my way through This Bridge Called My Back, a collection of 'writings by radical women of color'. It's a challenging and inspiring experience.

One part of the PhD experience is getting heavily into a few theoretical fields or issues. You read and read, trying to make sure that you know all the important authors and perspectives. All of the debates and struggles seem to be world-shaking. Then, you step outside the field for a second and realise that there are a whole range of perspectives that just aren't represented in that world-view. There are whole other worlds: worlds where black lesbians in South Africa face horrific violence,where 39% of Indigenous Australians still live in 'low resource' households, where the women who make the electronics we use every day work in horrific conditions.

Reading This Bridge Called My Back has been reminding me of other struggles, other perspectives, that need to be addressed. At times, the authors' claims that white women (including white feminists) are racist strike a nerve with me. Sometimes it's so easy to let race disappear, to stick with the concerns that are familiar to me from my own life.

Most of the authors in the collection are open to and value collaborations with white women, but they make the persistant demand that white women educate ourselves. They expressed frustration and disappointment that they, as token representatives of various third world 'minorities', were continually being asked to speak to white women at conferences and other events. Those who are in a position of (relative) privilege have a responsibility, and the resources, to find out more about others' struggles themselves.

I feel embarrassed, sometimes, that I know so little about the ways in which Indigenous Australians are trying to resist the racism they have faced, and about the alternatives that they may offer to dominant Australian politics. I want to know more about the work of movements in the South: women's movements, farmers' movements', movements of adivasis and queers and intellectual property activists.

As well as my own reading, I hope that the Bluestocking Institute will become another way to build bridges between different perspectives. Through projects like the Community Scholars program and VOICES we're trying to reach out across the gulfs that divide us. Along the way, I expect to learn as much as I teach.

The Age of Enterprise?

Just a short observation on the economic crisis. Does anyone else note the irony in the marketing opportunities generated by this crisis? It seems 'economic crisis' can be applied in all sorts of marketing/advertising applications.

Only tonight, I have driven past a local gourmet food store that has professionally produced (i.e. a proper banner not just a handwritten sign) roadside flag advertising the availability of 'economic crisis meals.'

I also have it on good authority that Optus are using this tactic in their adverstising in ads with clippings of Telstra price increases with the slogan "Not what Australians need right now" underneath.

Maybe we could start a thread for people to post examples of crisis advertising they have seen.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Inflexibility or Wither Empathy or the Absence of Reason

First, I have to apologise to Christalla for kind of stealing her thunder, but it was her fantastic and illuminating talk that gave me the inspiration to write this. Second, I will apologise to anyone who happens to read this (hopefully there is someone out there), because there are several threats running through it and I will do my best to bring these together in a coherent fashion.

Christalla's talk focused on intractable conficts and the socio-psychological barriers to resolution, which foster perpetuation even when the guns have stopped or are in a period of prolonged silence. When peace can not be reached or maintained, blame is laid at the political leaderships of warring groups. Whilst they are partly responsible, we overlook societal resistance at our peril. Christalla examined this with reference to the Cyprus conflict.

Yesterday, I witnessed first hand the socio-psychological dimension of intractable conflict in a small lecture theatre here in Perth, with relation to Israel-Palestine. A visting academic was here to present an Israeli position on the strategic dynamics in the Middle East and why Israel feels concerned for its safety and security: this is a position I can readily understand. His analysis, like that of most strategists/political scientists/analysts/military officials/intelligence officers, focused on arms races, foreign and military policies, and political rhetoric. This tends to be the focus when examining this and other protracted and intractable conflicts.

However, what struck me as I listened to the subtext, and observed the reactions of the audience, is that if this conflict, and others like it, are to be resolved, even if only to some kind of detente, then fundamental changes need to take place at the societal level - there needs to be both bottom up and top down approaches to conflict resolution and they need to take place in tandem. Only with a sense of equity, in suffering and injustice, can there be a genuine societal will for peace.

Now, I am going to preface the rest of my entry with a couple of qualifiers. The audience yesterday was primarily, dare I say it, overwhelmingly Jewish, and understandably pro-Israel. However, what I observed is not a behaviour that is exclusively Jewish/Israeli, as I have witnessed it in people of all persuasions, it just so happens that this is my case study, so to speak.

What I observed, both in speech and in body language, was a type of victimhood which gives rise to blindness to the suffering of others, a refusal to acknowledge self aggression or responsibility in the situation, a lack empathy for people on the opposing side, and a dehumanised sense of the other. It was displayed in sneers for any suggestion that Israel should shoulder some of the responsibility for the conflict, that they could be equally as guilty of attrocities as Hamas, or that Palestinians suffer as much at the hands of Israel as Israelis do at the hands of Hamas; and in cheers for any statements by the academic that vindicated and justified personal biases and inflexibility. I qualify this by acknowledging that I have met Muslims in possession of the same sense of victimhood and self-righteousness. Neither is helpful; both are destructive.

Even more so, this sense of victimhood silences and sidelines voices of reason, the one thing so desparately needed if this, and other, conflicts are to be resolved. There were two voices of reason yesterday, one Jewish (hi if your watching), one Muslim, who made the sobering, yet I feel, not well received, suggestion for understanding and empathy, to walk in the shoes of the other and to acknowledge that there is an equal sense of victimisation and suffering among Israelis and Palestinians alike. I talked to a couple of younger people after who shared this sense of reason and empathy, and who were concerned by the inflexibility shown by some members of the audience, particularly how this reflects on outside perceptions of the their community: they felt powerless to change these inflexible attitudes.

If there is to be any chance of bringing peace to the Middle East, and indeed to any intractable conflict, then more emphasis needs to be placed on confidence building measures, of the most fundamental kind. People need to be empowered, if you will, with a greater sense of empathy for the other; the other needs to be re-humanised; there needs to be more reflexivity in social discourse, of the kind that is critically reflective of the self and the other.

There has to be a point at which the other is no longer the other, but simply another.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Waiting for the scandal

When confronted with stories and images of peoples' lives lost and ruined, Australians donated generously to support victims of the recent Victorian Bush Fires. These donations are greatly needed, and it is heartening to see the outpouring of support.

However, we should be realistic in our expectations of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) like the Red Cross. Following every major disaster from September 11th to the tsunami in 2004, people open up their pocketbooks. Then, a few months later a scandal erupts about the inability of NGOs to spend the funds directly on the present disaster. (There are also scandals relating to fake charities set up to scam unsuspecting donors, but that is another topic.)

The Australian Red Cross is aware of this. Its website states that if it receives excess funds during this appeal, the funds will be used for future disasters in Victoria. The Red Cross is also working closely with Federal and State officials to manage and deliver the funds and has set up an independent committee of community leaders to oversee the Bush Fire Appeal Fund.

These measures are important, but I don't think it will insulate the Red Cross from impending accusations. The scandal will come from unrealistic expectations of NGOs. People often donate money expecting 100% of their donation to go to disaster victims. That makes sense on the surface, but how do you expect that money to be processed and accounted for? It costs money to deliver services and ensure that they are spent in a responsible manner. It is also physically impossible for someone to receive your online donation on Monday and purchase equipment, hire and train staff, and send them out to affected areas the next morning at 8am.

This isn't to say that NGOs always manage funds properly. We should demand accountability from NGOs -- as we should from governments and businesses, too -- but we should not have unrealistic expectations that set NGOs up to fail. Such scandals have a ripple effect, building a sense of distrust of NGOs, bolstering accusations of inefficiency, and denying public support.

By all accounts, the Victorian Bush Fires were a great tragedy, but they will not be the last ones. Whether natural disasters take place in Australia or overseas, we should be realistic in our support of disaster relief organizations like the Red Cross and provide the adequate funds they need to prepare and mitigate for future events.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

A post-9/11 torture commission for the US?

There has been talk recently about establishing a commission to look at the Bush administration's approach to national security issues - especially torture.

Indeed, it is an idea which is garnering interest at both the high-level official and public levels in the US. The Senate Judiciary Committee will soon begin a study of how to go about investigating the use of torture by US forces during the Bush administration. A February Gallup poll showed that 62 percent of Americans support either the prosecution or investigation of Bush administration officials for torture. And despite President Obama's apparent neutrality over the issue, it has been noted that the Obama team has carefully considered the idea.

The prospect of such a commission is extraordinary, for more than one reason. It would be a symbol that the period during which such policies as torture were condoned and publicly excused is not to be swept under the carpet. Exposing the breadth and details of how a regime justified and conducted itself under the guise of public protection may facilitate public reflection on what happens when fear and hatred become tools for political manipulation. It may provide a measure of justice for victims of human rights abuses. And, over time, a commission on torture may lead to stronger debates about what can happen when people are demonised and turned into a threatening 'other'.

But is it likely to go ahead? What are the domestic and international implications of such a commission? Would President Obama, who has invested so much of his image in bridging the politics divide in the US, really support a commission which has the potential to isolate Republicans (especially if Congress has anything to do with any commission) who will label the whole thing a political witch hunt?

Let's see...

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Suggestion Box

For those who want to suggest themes for future events, ways of making the Institute more open and participatory, or giving feedback on any part of our activities. Thank you for your input, and please leave your comments below.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Grassroots Feminism

It's inspiring to come across other projects throughout the world that dovetail with our own. Grassroots feminism looks like an amazing site - it's just been launched and I've only had time to glance through some of the sections, but it's already making me think about how to improve our own homepage. The site's designed to be an online community platform and living history archive. I'm looking forward to exploring the site, and it's definitely worth a visit if you're interested in transnational feminism(s) and participatory media cultures.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Discussion Group: Why don't conflicts get solved?

Join us for the first Community Scholars discussion group Tuesday 3 March 2009 at 8.00 pm at the Tresillian Community Centre (corner of Edwards St. and Tyrell St., Nedlands). Christalla Yakinthou will lead a discussion looking at what lies underneath conflicts that are called intractable, and what becomes of a society that has been deeply traumatised by war. If you'd like to raise questions that would be of particular interest to you, please visit the discussion page on our forum.

Useful reading:
Characteristics of Intractable Conflicts by Jacob Bercovitch
- explaining intractable conflicts

The Peace Industry in Nepal, The South Asian
- a very brief snapshot at the proliferation of the peace industry in a conflict society

End of Mission Report, by Alvaro de Soto, ex-United Nations Under-Secretary-General
- an illuminating insider's perspective on the difficulty of building peace in deep conflict

All are welcome to attend.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Metablogging: Why this blog won't ruin the Internet

A while ago, Andrew Keen created quite a fuss when he claimed that the Internet is ruining everything: "Blogs, Wikis, Social Networking, and the Digital World are Assaulting our Economy, Culture and Values". I haven't had a change to read The Cult of the Amateur yet, but I've come across snippets of his arguments around the place, and they're awfully familiar. Much of the concern seems to come down to a feeling that without proper filtering mechanisms, our culture (and economy, and values) will be overrun by tasteless and ill-informed amateurism.

I don't have the time to get too deeply into these arguments now, but I did want to at least bring up the issue, since we're joining the cacophony of unedited, unfiltered voices out there. Firstly: I have a lot of faith in amateurs. Amateurs (who, like me, are sometimes also professionals/experts, depending on what they're producing) create many beautiful and useful things. They don't necessarily create the same beautiful and useful things that accredited experts do, which is probably a good thing. Secondly: the Internet isn't really unfiltered. It's more of a cross between a complete free-for-all and the academic process of peer review. We cite each other by linking to pages, find networks of shared interests, critique and build a conversation.

Blogging isn't the same as publishing in a journal or presenting a paper, but I feel that it can still provide something useful, and hopefully beautiful.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Transitioning to a Better State of Crisis

I've been having a lot of conversations lately about the financial crisis; about how it will affect people, whether it spells the end of capitalism as we know it, whether the stimulus packages in the US, Australia, etc etc will help, whether it's a good thing if they help or if they'll just be propping up a destructive system.

One of my hopes is that people will take this opportunity to start transitioning to a new system. All of that money (and research, and effort) going into 'stimulating the economy' could, perhaps, more fruitfully be spent on transitioning to a more equitable, sustainable, and beautiful system. (ClubOrlov has a similar idea, although they frame it more as a way to survive the coming collapse of the US.)

The area that first springs to mind for me is the food system, both because of my research and because I've just been to Cuba and have been reading a bit about their transition to more sustainable agriculture during the 'special period'. Local food production, particularly if it preserves crop biodiversity and isn't based on petrochemical, gives communities a lot of resilience in the face of crisis.

ClubOrlov argues for focusing efforts on three areas as well as food: shelter, transportation, and security, and gives some thoughtful suggestions on how to restructure these areas, drawing on the experiences of the post-Soviet era. We could also think of other areas that might be worth attention: for me, access to the vast store of online information on everything from organic gardening to alternative accommodation would be important to preserve. Community mesh networks might be one way to ensure that people had access to this resource. Our approach to energy will also be vital: shifting to renewable energy sources is part of this, part it may also be necessary to rethink what we're willing to expend energy on (how much do we need plasma TVs and SUVs?)

I'm not arguing that we adopt all of ClubOrlov's suggestions (some of which sound quite mad), and basing our society on the post-Soviet situation seems like a depressing prospect. I do, however, think thatwe should engage in debates about other ways to organise our society, and think creatively about how to provide for our needs and desires. Since we're putting so much effort into this, we may as well aim for something better rather than simply treading water.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Military Mama

‘Ever thought about joining the army?’ asked the man in uniform.

I didn’t know how to respond. Eventually I said ‘I have two small children’ thinking that that was more polite than saying ‘No way in hell.’

I thought having children would exempt me from his attempts to recruit me to join the US Army.

Instead he said, ‘All the more reason. Free medical and free dental.’

He said that he had been in the military for 11 years, and with 9 more years of active duty he could retire. I muttered something stupid about how he must be counting down the time. After we parted ways, he into the Army Recruitment office no closer to meeting his monthly quota of recruitments, and me continuing on this suburban highway, I thought of all sorts of things I should have asked him about himself, the places he’s been, and the choices he’s made.

The brief encounter with the US Army recruiter left me amused and saddened. Amused because as a 34 year old woman I don’t usually think of myself as the prime target for military recruiters. But then again, the US military is desperately in need of people to fight their wars, and have long ago abandoned the narrow criteria for enlistment of 18 year old boys.

I felt sad, too, because the idea that for some other mother of small children the promise of healthcare for her children would be enough for her to consider joining the US military. In fact, just this morning I heard a story on National Public Radio about a mother that was re-enlisting in the US Army in order to get needed medical care for her 4 month old disabled son. I can’t imagine what she is going through, the economic insecurity and concerns for her child, that she would be forced to re-enlist and most likely be sent to Iraq or Afganistan in order to provide medical care for her child.

No longer relying on arguments about fighting for your country or your patriotic duty, the US military now relies on promises of accessible healthcare for your kids in order to attract its recruits. Sadly enough, this may be incentive enough for people in desperate need of care.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Is it possible to be an ethical consumer?

The consumption habits of many of us in the global North and among elites in the global South are obviously unsustainable. The raw materials needed to support our habits are unreasonable and unfair. As standards of living improve in countries like China the demand for goods continue to grow, putting additional demand on people and the planet.

Economists tell us that consumption is good. Economic growth is the answer to all of our problems. After all, they tell us, purchasing things means that someone has a job making things. In 2001, President Bush tried to convince the American people that consumption was their patriotic duty following the attacks on September 11. He encouraged everyone to show those terrorists what we are made of and go out there and shop. And they did.

Fast forward to 2009 and the call to consume seems absurd (as it did to many people then) and potentially criminal in the light of the financial tsunami, which originated in the US but has now hit millions of people around the world, leaving a trail of foreclosures, bankruptcies, and poverty in its wake.

So what is the relationship between consumption and political action? While I don’t accept the premise that indiscriminant consumption is the answer to fixing the global financial system, I do believe that there is potential to use our purchasing habits to further our political goals. For example, there are worker-owned cooperatives, fair trade producers, and unionized factories that provide decent livelihoods for thousands of women and men.

I should be clear that I don’t think consumption is sufficient as the only point of political action, but rather it is one small, but albeit important, piece of broader civic action. Although I am writing this from a perspective of relative privilege, the same is true for consumers in the developing world. Choices we all make -- individually and collectively -- can be used as valuable tools to influence the way systems are structured and resources are distributed.

If you happen to be living in one of the countries that recently passed economic stimulus packages and you receive money, I encourage you to think about how to spend that money in a way that furthers your social and political values. Give it away, save it, or if you spend it, check out this guide to where to buy ethically made goods: Shop with a Conscious Consumer Guide

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The new spaces of globalisation

Listening to a podcast about Cairo's gated communities, I was struck yet again by the strange ways in which globalisation divides and connects different spaces.

Castells has written some interesting work on the subject: in 'The Space of Flows' he talks about the division of the world into two 'spaces', the space of flows and the space of places. The space of flows is one where information, people, and goods move freely and swiftly across borders. The space of places is tied to locales, to the people and activities that do not move so easily. And while these two spaces connect and overlap, it is the space of flows where most 'dominant activities' take place.

In Cairo, many of the people who are mobile - those with money, those who have travelled, those who can escape (and wish to escape) their families' orbits - are moving to gated communities. One the one hand, these communities are isolated: fenced off, with only an 'exclusive' set of people allowed to enter (as one interviewee on the podcast put it).

On the other hand, they become in some ways placeless, or rather part of another space - the space of luxury. The particularities of Egypt's geography can be effaced, as water is pumped in from the Nile to water the golf courses and fill the swimming pools. An Egyptian architect commenting on the communities talks about the architecture as placeless, pulled from the Internet. Names like 'Beverly Hills' and 'Hyde Park' also act to shift these places away from the local reality, and mosques are discreet, if present at all, the muezzin absent ("they have no volume control").

Communities like these exist everywhere - in Johannesburg, in Mexico City, in Kenya. Air-conditioned cars transport those with money from one manicured, placeless space, to another. Shopping malls, airports, even universities, are more or less the same all over. Even Perth itself feels like one of these spaces sometimes, cut off from many of the unpleasant realities of the world outside the gates.

I am aware, as I write this, that I am one of the few (on a global scale) who have access to the space of flows. I simultaneously feel guilty and optimistic; guilty because my privilege is undeserved, optimistic because there are so many people who are working at the nodes to change things. Where the space of flows and the space of places meet, there are small projects, debates, transfers, explorations of how the world can become different. There are some people who are working to insert new ideas into the current, hoping that they'll take seed somewhere downriver.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Could Barack Obama be the best thing to happen for Global Peace and Justice?

In less than two weeks in office, President Obama has made a number of major policy changes that with potentially positive outcomes regarding global peace and justice. Whilst his admonition of torture as a legitimate tool of war and promise to close Guantanamo within the year featured prominently, an equally significant decision was quietly made: reversing the Global Gag rule.

What does that have to do with global peace and justice? Historically, the US has been the biggest funder of overseas health and family planning programs in the developing world. This funding has ensured that women and children in poor countries have had access to basic health care - including maternal and infant health services - and couples have had access to family planning and reproductive health services. US funding effectively ensured that people in the developing world could fulfil a swathe of basic human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration. It also meant that developing states could, at least theoretically, move along the path toward full socio-economic development.

The US position became problematic under the Regan administration when right-wing religious groups had the ear of the White House. These groups, many of them Christian fundamentalist, objected to abortion on dogmatic/ideological grounds, and campaigned against US funding of health services that included abortion. US funding to the UNFPA was slashed and many programs shut as a result of lack of income. Funding resumed post Regan and open US political support was restored under Clinton.

And then came the Dark Ages.....

President Bush jnr signed what has become known as the Global Gag rule. This strict ruling cut US funding to any agency - US or overseas - that provided services where abortion might be counselled as an option. Note: this did not cut funding for abortion, it cut funding to organisations or clinics that offered information on abortion, even if it did not perform abortions. This meant that organisations and clinics that provided important health - primary, maternal, infant, reproductive - services to people in the developing world were starved of vital funds: many closed as a result. The Global Gag rule was a direct contravention of global justice on so many levels, particularly to the UDHR.

And then came Obama....

Very quietly, on Friday January 23rd, without the cameras present (let's face it, no one wants to piss off the anti-abortion movement), President Obama rescinded the Global Gag rule. US funding to overseas health services will be restored. People of the developing world will once more have access to the vital services they are entitled to.