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.