Thursday, January 28, 2010

Howard Zinn 1922-2010: "I never died" says he

The first book I ever read by Howard Zinn was SNCC: The New Abolitionists. I've read a lot of his writing since then, and I think it's his most powerful book.

Howard Zinn wrote an essay The Optimism of Uncertainty. He argued that history should give us hope, not because it guaranteed that the powerless would win (it really doesn't), but because it showed extraordinary, unpredictable change is possible. The Civil Rights Movement, particularly SNCC, is an example of the unpredictability of hope. On the 1st of February 1960, Ezell A. Blair Jr., David Richmond, Joseph McNeil, and Franklin McCain, sat down at the counter of their local Woolworth's and refused to be served. Nobody could have predicted what would grow out of that action.

There have been so many attempts to hide the history of collective resistance, including the reduction of the the freedom movement SNCC was part of to someone sitting down on a bus and someone else giving a great speech. Howard Zinn wrote history like it mattered, because he wanted to cultivate the hope that history brings.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Happy New Year!

So it's the time of New Year's resolutions (and if you live in Wellington grumbling about the weather).* The newspapers didn't have much copy over the last couple of weeks, so they were full of: "50 ways to be healthier in 2010."

So I was delighted to see this post on The Fat Nutritionist calledDon't be Poor (and other New Year's Resolutions):

The traditional 10 Tips for Better Health
* 1. Don’t smoke. If you can, stop. If you can’t, cut down.
* 2. Follow a balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables.
* 3. Keep physically active.
* 4. Manage stress by, for example, talking things through and making time to relax.
* 5. If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation.
* 6. Cover up in the sun, and protect children from sunburn.
* 7. Practice safer sex.
* 8. Take up cancer-screening opportunities.
* 9. Be safe on the roads: follow the Highway Code.
* 10. Learn the First Aid ABCs: airways, breathing, circulation.

The social determinants 10 Tips for Better Health
* 1. Don’t be poor. If you can, stop. If you can’t, try not to be poor for long.
* 2. Don’t have poor parents.
* 3. Own a car.
* 4. Don’t work in a stressful, low-paid manual job.
* 5. Don’t live in damp, low-quality housing.
* 6. Be able to afford to go on a foreign holiday and sunbathe.
* 7. Practice not losing your job and don’t become unemployed.
* 8. Take up all benefits you are entitled to, if you are unemployed, retired or sick or disabled.
* 9. Don’t live next to a busy major road or near a polluting factory.
* 10. Learn how to fill in the complex housing benefit/asylum application forms before you become homeless and destitute.** [these are quoted from a wikipedia article]

There's a visual illustration of the same idea at the food for thought pyramid. I disagree with the proportions, but I think it's kind of beautiful. I particularly appreciate the large space given over to luck.

Oh and if you obsess over what you eat and exercise and still get cancer - it must be your attitude. "Healthy living" has to be a goal that is always out of reach, a set of behaviours that can always be added to.

The endless health tips and New Year's advice are about policing, and making people feel bad so they will buy products (if you stop drinking one soda a day I will gratitously link to a Sarah Haskins Video). But that's not the only purpose they serve.

The reason for repeating over and over again that we can individually control our own health, is to hide the fact that we can't. It is to hide the fact that collectively, societally we could do heaps to improve people's longevity and quality of life and we don't.

I'd make a New Year's resolution to write more about that, but I probably wouldn't keep it.

* For the record my New Year's resolution is to keep up with what Joss Whedon is doing. I'm setting myself up for success.

** It's a great, but obviously incomplete list - don't have ancestors who were colonised, be selective about the country you were born in... we could go on and on.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Name Suppression

So Whale Oil is the first blogger to be charged with breaking name suppression in relation to a rape case.

It's strange. It's almost 4 years ago that this post broke name suppression orders around the police rape cases. I didn't write that post to get attention, or to make a point. I wrote it because I was furious - I was politically furious. Throughout the trial Louise Nicholas's past had been brought up, under cross examination and in every paper while the men who raped her were being protected.

I still don't know what I think of name suppression, or of breaking it. I think, in balance, the breaking of name suppression that went on around the cop rape case was useful. I think it disrupted the image of poor hard done by cops and it was a way of getting a really public message of support and solidarity out there, not just to Louise Nicholas and the other women who had been raped by Clint Rickard, Bob Schollum and Brad Shipton, but to the many women for whom the attacks on Louise Nicholas felt very personal.

As an action, it wasn't without risks, some of which were not mine to take. Most importantly, the trial that took place the year after that (when they were again acquitted) could have been thrown out.

I don't really have simple thoughts about name suppression, or short answers. I certainly don't oppose name suppression on principle, except insofar as I oppose everything about the criminal justice system.

But breaking name suppression just to do it? Without any political point? As part of some kind of guessing game (as Whale Oil apparently did)? That's juvenile.

One of the people Whale Oil is supposed to have named is the Olympian who raped his wife. He has name suppression not because he is famous, but because she has automatic name suppression.

As a feminist one of the things I'm fighting for is a world where victims of sexual violence don't need automatic name suppression. Where there is no shame in being abused, just being abusive. But we are so far from being there.

If the rumours I have heard about the identity of the comedian who sexually assaulted a girl (who also has name suppression because of the identity of his victim) and the identity of the Olympian are true then there are political points to be made about both of them. There are points to be made about the nature of rape culture, and the way women's lives are prioritised. But the only way to make those points is to name the abuser, and therefore out the person they abused. Political arguments about rape must never be made if you have to tread on victims of abuse to do so.

In the end it's not surprising that it is a right-wing anti-feminist man who has been the first blogger to be charged for breaking name suppression relating to sexual abuse cases. For me, the fight was never about name suppresison, it was always about rape.

Friday, January 01, 2010

A short response

I've been meaning to write a bit about Phil Goff's 'nationhood' and the response on the left (as usual most of what people are saying is infuriating me). Bryce over at liberation is writing a very long series of posts, and I disagree with most of his premises and conclusions, so I was planning to respond to that, when he finished it.

I don't know when he's going to finish it, but there are parts of the latest section that I want to respond to while the series is still going. I am particularly interested in the latest section where he argues that during the fourth labour government a socially liberal concensus was built alongside the neo-liberal concensus. More than that he's arguing that this happened because there was a trade off where people.

I think this is problematic on many levels. For example, he argues there was a feminist trade-off he lists the Ministry of Women's Affairs and Pay Equity as what the feminists gained. But these gains were paltry compared to what feminists were demanding. Even those who supported the Ministry of Women's Affairs were disillusioned within a short time of it being set up.* Pay Equity legislation wasn't introduced until everyone knew it was too late to do any good.** The repeal of the appalling 1977 abortion laws didn't even get off the ground (and still hasn't - despite there being a supposed social liberal concensus).

Edwards really isn't clear on who he sees as making this trade-off. If he is talking entirely about those in positions of power within the labour party, which he appears to be in the feminist section, then he may be right, I don't know a lot about that. However, if he is trying to describe the response of the movements that had grown up over the 1970s, then his analysis is very very limited, and does not acknowledge the resistance to the fourth labour government's economic policies. That opposition may not have been effective, but it existed.

But my point in this post is even simpler. Edwards quotes Bruce Jesson:

They couldn't affect economic policy, but they could gain a trade-off – the anti-nuclear position for economics, in many cases. In the case of the unions, the trade-off was compulsory unionism.

I haven't done enough study of the New Zealand left in the 1980s to provide detail information about how the many strands of orgnaised opposition that had been present in the Muldoon day responded. However, here Edwards demonstrates the limited usefulness of his own argument. Whether trade-offs were made, whether people pushed where they thought they were most likely to win, whether people fought on more than one front, winning some battles, but losing the big ones - 'identity politics' or 'social liberalism' is not a useful explanatory framework, particular if set as an alternative to class politics. Unions took exactly the same trade-offs that Bryce Edwards was talking about (actually from what I've heard they were far, far worse, because they were more powerful within the labour party, and hte trade-off process was more explicit).

The New Zealand left was ineffectual in responding to the fourth labour government that is a fact. But to lay blame on that ineffectualness at the feet of 'identity politics' is only possible if you are selective with your evidence. Bryce Edwards talks about the feminist trade-off within the party, but ignores the feminist organising against the reforms. But more importantly, he ignores the role of the labour movement in propping up and supporting the fourth labour government. As I said in my response to John Minto" "It wasn't the lack of class analysis which stopped people fighting back, it was a really bad class analysis."

I will try to respond to the arguments Bryce Edwards makes more fully at some point.

* I can't give you the exact time line sorry - although I can visualise the article in broadsheet.

** Although the importance of pay equity to feminists does undermine another part of Bryce's argument - that what he calls identity politics comes at the expense of a focus on economic inequality.