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.