A wee update

It’s been a tough year. I’ve been up and down emotionally, and busy at work. I’m fine, life is moving along, but I haven’t felt terribly much like sharing.

Anyway, as it’s Earth Hour I’ve been sharing my old post https://muteswann.wordpress.com/2012/03/31/whats-the-point-of-earth-hour/

And my thoughts about Earth Hour inevitably link in to my thoughts about Friends of the Earth Scotland and the reasons I stopped donating to them. As more and more folk from third sector organisations declare for Yes, publicly or privately, it becomes less newsworthy. I stand by my rationale, and still think if the only reason you are newsworthy is because of your current job you should think carefully about coming out for either side.

That said, Friends of the Earth, especially in the international federation, are one of the few environmental organisations who stand by principles of human rights, corporate responsibility and respecting indigenous voices. Which are becoming all the more important as Scotland possibly approaches a constitution.

So I suppose, as Earth Hour draws to a close, I wanted to write a short post to say that I am still angry (if not more angry) about simplistic demonstrations of environmental support when larger issues like the impact of climate change here and now and renewables vs fossil fuels receive less attention than these gimmicks.

I also wanted to say that despite the fact that I personally have some issues with some of the choices my local Friends of the Earth have made, right now they are fighting a ground breaking battle against fracking just outside of Falkirk. And they are fighting hard and well. And I am proud to know them.

And turning your lights out for an hour won’t help them, but donating to their fighting fund will. http://www.foe-scotland.org.uk/node/1707

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My rationale

Today I made a difficult decision.

When I started working at Friends of the Earth Scotland it really opened my eyes to the injustices caused by the use and abuse of environmental resources. I knew the planet and our ecology was struggling because of humanity and our over-consumption, but I got to meet people whose families and communities had been destroyed by companies like Shell and Coca-Cola over-extracting the local resources.

So I put my heart and soul into the job, and it almost killed me. Partly for reasons outlined elsewhere in this blog, and partly for other reasons, which will remain unspoken.

But, alongside other colleagues, I was touched and inspired by my international colleagues. They were kidnapped, tortured, driven off their land. They started Occupy type camps to protest environmental destruction. They mobilised thousands of people with only volunteer resources. They travelled under threat of not being allowed re-entry to their country. Nothing I faced was even a midge on the skin of what they faced.

But I knew my wee group in Scotland inspired others. We were feisty and kept environmental justice at the heart of our work. We never forgot, despite funding problems, that we were representing an international network whose work could easily be undermined by the smallest decision we made.

And when I had to leave I was ridiculously sad. And even last week I was telling my partner how I had given up my ideal job.

So today when I stopped my direct debit to Friends of the Earth Scotland and transferred that donation to Friends of the Earth International I did so because I think my local branch have let me down.

And I, perhaps more than anyone, know how difficult it is to be FoES in the current environment. But I cannot stand by the Director’s decision to come out in support of Yes Scotland a year before the referendum.

I’m not saying I disagree with the premise that the environment will be better served in an independent Scotland, but I want my money to support an organisation who will fight for environmental justice regardless of the result of the vote in September 2014. And by coming out for one side, the Director risks his, and his organisation’s influence.

I’m sure he weighed his decision, and I’m not him, so can’t pre-judge his decision. But it doesn’t sit well with me. So I have withdrawn my financial support for Friends of the Earth Scotland, and instead directed it towards the international network.

I’m sorry guys, I really am, but this is the final straw for me. Neutrality as we go forward to September 18th 2014 is vital.

I wish you well, and I know it’s been hard to even survive since 2011, but you should’ve warned me about this. This is one step beyond.

Further thoughts on political party conferences

Over a year ago, I posted this entry about political party conferences. Having just experienced my first UK political party conference (rather than just a Scottish party conference), I have some additional thought which may or may not be of interest. 

First, the expense: You guessed it, even more prohibitive than the Scottish costs. At one point we thought it was going to cost £800 for me to attend – and I was only going in order to chair one 75 minute long fringe meeting. Because of an administrative error on the part of the organisers I got in for free in the end. (Take that!)

And why was I chairing the meeting anyway? UK conferences are attended by UK staff. Well, it was in Glasgow so I was on hand, and the panel of the event we had been asked to support was all male, so as a democracy organisation we felt my presence as a woman as chair would be, useful. Turns out we were practically the only people who thought this. The VAST majority of the event panels were all male, with only a handful including even a single woman. The entire New Statesmen three day event series had male speakers. 

Unsurprisingly therefore, the audiences are also predominantly male. I’m speaking at an event this week on women and voting so I’ll be raising this there and asking what can be done to involve women more in politics, especially if panels continue to be gender biased towards men.

Anyway, the most thought-provoking aspect of conference this time was not the paucity of gender balance. It was the profligacy. 

As mentioned, it costs a small fortune to attend party conference, more to have an exhibition stand, more to host a fringe, and more again to have refreshments at your fringe event. Then you add in accommodation, additional expenses, travel, and its a pretty large chuck of most organisations’ budgets. 

I appreciate political parties need to raise money, especially as membership is on such a steep decline. 

But. All your elected politicians are paid from the public purse. And if you are in government you receive an additional income. And if you aren’t you still get public funding through short money. 

I don’t object to this. I would MUCH prefer equally divided public funding for political parties than watch ‘donors’ receive peerages or preferential treatment. 

But… Why really must parties spend so much (and require others to spend so much) in holding regular conferences? Not all the membership attend. Policy positions don’t change because of party members input at conference. Online voting on motions would be much more democratic and transparent. 

And I think it was walking back up to the SECC after popping out for a sandwich that really brought this home to me. 

The food stands in the exhibition hall were closed when I arrived. Instead there were copious amounts of free wine (and juice), for the assembled masses to enjoy whilst being geed up by the party chairman. And I mean copious amounts. I’m not objecting, it was nice wine.

But then I started thinking about who had paid for it. A donor seeking advantage? The party looking to placate the membership? And whoever had footed the bill at the end of the day I couldn’t help but be struck at the contrast. The contrast between the suited and booted, 90% white, wine drinkers cheerfully greeting each other whilst surrounded by stands from Battersea Power Station, Sky News, the Falkland Islands, the Tobacco Retailers Alliance et al, and the Glasgow just beyond the armadillo. I don’t think Glasgow’s food banks lay on wine receptions.

Glasgow has the most workless households in the UK. It is the third worst city in the UK for child poverty – at a cost to the city of almost £400m annually. 

I take the point that all those carousing Lib Dems will bring money into the city, and the staff at the SECC will be working flat out when they might not have been. 

But (I’ve used but a lot in this post), but… Imagine if a political party cancelled conference. If instead they and their corporate sponsors used the money they would have spent glad-handing to fund anti-poverty programmes, to help invigorate cities, to tackle homelessness. 

Obviously it would be even better if Government just paid for all that and didn’t introduce regressive and harmful polices like the bedroom tax, but, just imagine. Or even imagine inviting disadvantaged children for a decent meal, instead of providing wine to the membership. 

Maybe even a handful of organisations could decide they weren’t paying to attend conference because the money would be better spent on the servies they provided, services necessary because of Government failings. Or maybe the corporate sponsors could donate their contribution to their worthwhile cause of choice. 

And maybe pigs might fly.

an attempt at a lighthearted explanation

Firstly thank you for all the feedback on yesterday’s post. A few specific incidents had came together in my head and boiled over. 

I wanted to see if I could clarify some of my thinking, and see if others found a slightly odd analogy helpful.

Because I think I failed to adequately distinguish between people who behave in a clearly misogynistic way, and not only have no intention of considering the impact of their behaviour on either specific women or women as a gender, but are also to a large extent unaware of the damage they are inflicting, even when that behaviour is physical abuse. 

Then there are people who, in the language of psychotherapy, enable the misogynistic behaviour to be perpetuated. Not necessarily by their relationship towards particular individuals, but by their silent acceptance of (or refusal to challenge) behaviour which serves to undermine and prevent gender equality. 

This first category are probably beyond hope. But the rest of us can still make a difference if we do not allow the actions of the minority to be unacknowledged, if we question norms and consider the implications both of the behaviour we fail to challenge, and of our own failure to challenge. 

Now for the analogy:

In Back to the Future we are introduced to 3 different versions of Hill Valley in 1985. Initially, the McFlys are not unhappy, but struggling, and slightly down at heel. George continues to be bullied by Biff Tannen, and the whole family are far from living their dreams. Marty is perpetually in trouble, his uncle is in jail, and the only bright spot is his girlfriend Jennifer.

Then, thanks to one small change back in 1955, (Marty being knocked over by Lorraine’s Dad’s car instead of George) a series of events takes place over only a few days that means that when Marty returns to 1985, things are somewhat different. His parents are blisfully content, playing tennis every Saturday. George is a succesful author, Biff is enjoying his own business rather than bullying George to prepare his work. Marty’s siblings both have high flying careers. 

And then there’s Biff’s 1985. Where thanks to his grandfather purloining the Sports Almanac, Biff has become a millionaire and has ripped the heart out of Hill Valley. Again, one small change, triggering a new series of events, and everything is different. (One could go into some detail about the morality of the trigger event compared to the previous trigger but let’s leave that for another day).

So, imagine that the current patriarchy is a bit like the original 1985. Women are doing okay, far better than in an alternative scenario (aka Biff’s 1985), but with one small change (challenging misogyny more commonly), we could have a world where there is an increased hope of full gender equality (the new and improved 1985). It’s not substantially different from afar, but within it is full of confidence, equality, and contentment.

My premise is that if we just start with that small event – not letting misogyny be excused when we see it – we can start a series of events that may mean the future is less BTTF 1985 Mark I, avoids Biff’s 1985, and settles us somewhere around BTTF 1985 Mark II. 

Of course in less than 2 years we’ll be in 2015 and we’ll be enjoying flying cars, fashion trends including clothing that shrinks to fit when you put it on, two neck ties and inside out trousers, and…. the mighty hoverboard. 

 

On misogyny

The Oxford English dictionary defines misogyny as:

“dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women”

which by all accounts is a developed definition which is meant to capture the usage of the word more than it’s strict Greek roots. 

Is this developmental change in how we use the word – and indeed how women use the word – part of the problem men have with accepting the label?

Because frequently misogynists will tell you they “don’t hate women”. But I’m more interested in your cultural, knee-jerk attitude – indeed, your ingrained prejudice. 

I accept that a man who blames a woman for not divorcing an abusive husband does not “hate women” but he does have a compeltely skewed understanding of the position of women in society and of the realities of abusive relationships for the abused partner. 

I accept that a man who says women could succeed in politics if they just tries harder does not “hate women” but he does fail to grasp the long-standing historical barriers that even 21st century entrants into politics must overcome.

I accept that allowing someone to represent your party despite being given evidence of their abusive character towards women does not mean you “hate women” but it does mean you are complicit in allowing someone whose personal life indicates a shall we say shaky attitude towards equality to continue working in an influential position despite their ingrained prejudice. 

So if I call you out on your misogyny, rather than shouting at me with your instantaneous outrage that I dare to do so, maybe you should consider why I am using such a powerful word. Perhaps it’s to try and counter your abuse of power. And perhaps your failure to consider my rationale is just one more example of your ingrained prejudice that you are somehow superior to me. And perhaps your not seeing your own misogyny is why feminists talk about structural barriers as well as individual hurdles. Remember the word ingrained. Not intentional (necessarily), not something you have done deliberately (necessarily) but an ingrained attitude you have betrayed and I have pointed out. Now fix it. 

Wishes and desires

Things I would like:

To live somewhere quiet, but walking distance of a decent store that has good cheese and wine

To have a mature garden than I can just tinker with

For the climate where this is to be somewhere I can be outside of an evening more often than not

To have a porch, with a view, where the above could happen

To be able to look after multiples of cats and dogs

To have spare room capacity for numerous visitors

To have a room that I can factually label a library

To have a heated outdoor pool

To have an indoor room that caters for all kinds of tropical plants

There’s more, but that’ll do for now…

Optimism

I’ve had a busy month, and a few tough weeks before that because I had to appear normal a lot, and that’s quite a big ask for me.

So tonight was the culmination of a lot of professional and personal moments, and, well, I have been overwhelmed by the appreciation, gratitude and, dare I say it, love, that I have received in the past few days.

It’s important that we talk to each other, that we share, and that we are honest. And sometimes that will bring heartache or criticism, but it will also bring much more in the positive column of valuable relationships.