Monday, December 26, 2011

On Change and Accountability: A response to Clarisse Thorn

Note for those who don't read Feministe.  Clarisse Thorn posted an interview with Hugo Schwyzer.  People objected to Hugo Schwyzer being given this space on a feminist blog as he had, among other things, tried to kill his girlfriend a decade ago. Clarisse Thorn responded by closing comments on the interview thread and writing a post called On Change and Accountability.  This post is primarily in response to that last post of Clarisse's, which attempted to transfer the debate to a theoretical one about change and accountability.  (Feministe has since offered this apology).  This post will focus on the general not the particular - so you don't have to have followed all the links to understand it. If you want to follow the wider discussion La Lubu's post is my favourite (I also think there's been some good stuff on Tumblr, but I can never find stuff there).

Dear Clarisse

Towards the end of your post On Change and Accountability you asked:
Have you thought about these questions in your own life? I don’t mean abstractly, as an intellectual exercise. Concretely, and with intention. What would you do if, tomorrow, you found out that your best friend was a rapist? Your lover? What would you do if your sibling came to you to confess a terrible crime? To request absolution? To request accountability?
Did you expect your readers to answer no?  Sometime this year, it'll be a decade since a man tried to rape a woman in my house.  They knew each other, and me, through left-wing political circles.  Since then I've known more than ten left-wing men who used intimate violence against women.  I've never been central to any collective response, all of which were ad hoc and some of which may have done more good than harm, or been particularly close to the men.  I still have no idea on how to respond to intimate violence on the left in a positive way, but I do have quite a good idea of some of the ways individual and collective responses can do harm.

So yes, I have thought about your questions - my answers and my response to you is deeply intertwined in the experiences I've had, the conversations I've had about those experiences, and the reading I've done.* However, I am being a little bit more focused in my response than you were in your post.  I am very suspicious of attempts to broaden discussions of intimate abuse and abuse of power, to a wider idea of bad things people have done.  Men who use the power that our sexist and misogynist society gives them to hurt women generally find it easy to do so, and get a lot of support when they're challenged.  I believe that that social context is important. I am going to focus this post on responses to men who abuse women, because that was the situation that triggered your post and it's what I have most experience with.

I will provide direct answers to your questions  the end of the post. First, I want to outline the ways I disagree with the premise of your post, and why some parts of it I disagreed with so strongly that I felt driven to spend the last few days planning and writing this reply.  You ask:
How can we create processes for accountability? Feminists often discuss crimes like partner violence and sexual assault. Our focus is on helping survivors of these crimes, just as it should be. I personally have been trained as a rape crisis counselor, and I have volunteered in that capacity (if you’re interested in feminist activism, then I really encourage you to look into doing the same). And the history of feminism includes convincing people to actually care about and recognize the trauma of rape: Rape Trauma Syndrome was first defined and discussed in the 1970s.

But perhaps because of our focus on helping and protecting survivors, I rarely see feminist discussions of how to deal with people who have committed crimes. In fact, I rarely see any discussions of how to deal with that, aside from sending people to jail. Let me just say that problems with the prison-industrial complex are their own thing—but even aside from those, the vast majority of rapes and assaults and other forms of gender-based violence go unprosecuted.
I think other people have already pointed out whose work you rendered invisible in this section, but I want to take it in a slightly different direction. Here you seem to suggest that responding to perpetrators and responding to survivors are two separate things and that feminists' focus on survivors has left little space for dealing with perpetrators. My experience has been that the best response to perpetrators have been more survivor centred, and the worst have been entirely perpetrator-centred. Why?  Because abuse is about power and control - and centring perpetrators is giving them power and control.

A basic assumption of your in the post is that good responses to perpetrators need to be centred around perpetrators.  You barely mention survivors in your post, let alone other people who may have been hurt by similar behaviour and have boundaries and triggers and want to keep themselves safe.  Men who use the power society gave them to hurt women can do so because their experiences are centred in society.  I think centring perpetrators makes it harder for them to change, not easier.
“Accountability teams” are one way I’ve heard of for dealing with this: whether support groups of perpetrators who share their experiences with making amends and changing their ways, or groups of friends who assist a perpetrator with those processes. I would like to see more and larger discussions about those teams, and more acknowledgement that change is possible.

'Accountability teams' sound great - but I'm pretty sceptical of them.  When I've known support groups set up formally around perpetrators, they have become advocacy groups for those perpetrators.  One man I know, who was part of 'support group' for a perpetrator rang up individual members of a collective who had decided that the perpetrator was not welcome in their space; he attempted to pressure each individual member, and ignored a woman who repeatedly stated "I'm not comfortable with this" and kept trying to pressure her.  Likewise, I'm reasonably familiar with government funded programmes which act broadly like the perpetrator groups you describe above.  From what I know of the research, they're not particularly effective, and there is some suggestion that they actually make people better abusers.

We live in a world with a profound level of ignorance about intimate abuse, and an awful lot of myths that many people believe.  In my experience, perpetrators who don't want to change have found it easy to surround themselves with friends who support their worldview in some way.  This makes sense - if you're someone who doesn't want to be abusive, you are likely to have among your friends people who will support you in meaningful ways, but if you don't want to change, then it's very easy to find people who will act as your apologists.  Those who surround themselves with apologists will generally be happy with presenting themselves as trying to change - and use any support group to bolster that claim.

This doesn't mean that I don't believe in support for perpetrators who are genuinely trying to change.  I just have known far more perpetrators who were trying to persuade people that they were genuinely trying to change, than those who have genuinely tried to change.  And those who are not trying to change have tended to use systems that have been set up to punish women they have abused. 

I can imagine a time, or a circumstance, when I would have been excited about 'accountability teams'.  I think our disagreement there is just a sign about how many layers of abuse apologist bullshit I have found around every abusive man I have known. However, my disagreement to what you said next is more fundamental:    
If we can’t create this kind of process, then how can we expect to create real change around these crimes? How can we expect perpetrators of violence to work on themselves if we can’t give them the space to work? Why should someone work for forgiveness if they know forgiveness can never come?
I want to untangle this, because there are a lot of different ideas here.  First of all, when it comes to feminist blogs, there is no 'we', in fact when it comes to communities (which after all are informal sets of relationships with non-formalised power and decision making) there is no 'we'.  There can be no 'we' without a collective decision making process - just a false 'we' people talking on behalf of others.

I agree that perpetrators need space and resources to change, but the biggest barrier to that is generally that they are surrounded by apologists and cultural narratives that justify their behaviour.  Outsiders can't intentionally clear that away, they can only offer alternatives.

But what I really disagree with is the idea that abusive men should be working for forgiveness, let alone your conclusion that that means people need to forgive.

As others have pointed out forgiveness has a lot of religious overtones and baggage, it's a narrow way to frame responses to abusive men, that will only speak to particular people.  However, even if I translate it to language that resonates more with me, rather than forgiveness I would talk about 'being OK with someone', I still think you are talking about deeply personal decisions and boundaries that people can only draw for themselves.  For example, seven years ago I stayed silent, when a woman with black eyes told me it was an accident, even though I knew that wasn't true.  I have realised, over the years, that I am never going to be OK with what I did.  I also realised that that meant I was never going to be OK with this woman's boyfriend, because I'm not going to hold myself responsible for my inaction around abuse, longer than I'm going to hold the man who did it (who has  changed more than most men I know who have committed intimate violence - although he has behaved in deeply problematic ways much more recently than seven years ago).

Perpetrators should not be working for forgiveness, because forgiveness is deeply personal.  But more than that I'm incredibly wary of the idea that abusers should be working on stopping hurting people, for any kind of reward, including changing the way people think of them.

One group response I saw from a distance used their silence over a rapist (and were generally very good at silencing other people) to try and get him to attend an anti-sexual-violence programme.  They held out that they would keep his abuse from going too public and got him to take certain steps.  It was, obviously, a disaster - change is fucking difficult and people have to really want to do it.  If you try and use leverage you have over someone to make them change (particularly someone manipulative, as most successful abusers are) then you are going to be unsuccessful.

An easy path back to everything being OK, is often what abusive men who don't take their abuse seriously (but don't necessarily deny it) - want.  I've known an abusive man demand this, and punish the survivor because he didn't get it. He used all ll those subtle talking to friend of friends ways that it's so easy for abusers to punish survirors particularly if other people let them.  One group I know set the simple requirement "you tell us when you think you are ready to come back" and never heard from two different men again.  I think it's important not to offer short-cuts or a path to people being OK - learning to live with what you've done and other people's reaction to what you've done is a perpetrator's own messy work.


However, none of that was why your post troubled me so much. You wrote it in response to people who were part of a feminist space and were outraged at the way you had centred in that space a man who had tried to murder his girlfriend. You were explicit both at feministe, and your place, that criticisms of that man bothered you, and shut that criticism down.
Then you wrote a post that is incredibly dismissive of people who disagree with you:
But I hope I can dim the flamewar into a lantern to illuminate issues that actually matter.
I believe that the politics of this situation are mostly a cheap distraction from truth and honor.
You go further, you go into some detail about why you think Hugo has changed and explicitly argue that your view of Hugo should be other's view of Hugo:
Other feminists have been angrily emailing me, Tweeting at me, etc with things like “FUCK YOU FOR PROTECTING THIS WOLF IN SHEEP’S CLOTHING.” But I have seen no evidence that Hugo hasn’t made an honest and sustained effort at recovery and accountability. 
Your entire post reads, to me, like an argument that people who who don't agree with you about Hugo's transformation, or the relevance of Hugo's transformation about the way he has treated should not hold or express those views (partly because you don't spend much time trying to persuade people on either of these points).  You are demanding a 'we' without a collective decision making process.

To explain why I think this is the most anti-feminist position that I have ever read on Feministe I have to tell a story.

In 2006, a man named Ira hit his girlfriend when they were breaking up (he did this in a supposedly radical social centre - he was not the first man to assault his girlfriend in that social centre).  After they broke up the girlfriend (who I will call Anne for the purposes of the post, although that's not her name) named the abuse within the relationship.  Ira had been emotionally, physically and sexually abusive.

Ira had many defenders, and responses to the abuse focused on him (in fact a lot of my caution about ideas like accountability teams, and my firmness that all responses have to be survivor centred come from this experience).  He was exceptionally good at using mutual acquaintances (and there were many) to punish Anne.  He never made amends with Anne, or anyone else.  He did what most abusers who I've known who were seriously challenged do - he left town.

Apparently in this new place, he talked a good game.  He admitted to some of what he'd done, and presented himself as a reformed man.  He didn't need to make meaningful change, he just needed to present himself as someone who had done so.

In 2009, about three years after they broke up he was part of organising climate camp.  This was supposed to bring people from all around the country to Wellington, where Anne was living.  Anne wanted to go to the camp, but she did not want to be around him.  She wrote to various people, including the safer spaces team, outlining the situation and asking if he could not come.  She got nothing back but vagueness and an argument that they could not do anything because the camp did not exist yet.

One of the arguments of the safer spaces team, which included people who claimed that they were feminists, was that they had talked to Ira and were convinced that he had changed.  They believed, or at least acted as if it was true, that it was their belief about him was important.  They ignored the view of one of the people he had abused, and many other women who felt unsafe around him.

It got messy from there.  Ira left, but only after a protest.  A woman who had been part of protesting Ira's actions was kicked out of climate camp by the safer spaces committee for being 'abusive' because she yelled at a man for hugging her when she didn't want to be hugged.  Ira got someone connected with Climate Camp to harass Anne - like I said he was good at getting mutual acquaintances to punish her.

The safer spaces committee had made it clear where they stood when they decided that it was their view on whether or not Ira had changed that mattered.


Your post read to me as taking exactly the same position as the climate camp safer spaces committee.  You appeared to be arguing that your view that Hugo Schwyzer was reformed, and that his reforming mattered was important. Why?

Everything about your post oozes pressure.  When you argue: "Why should someone work for forgiveness if they know forgiveness can never come?" You are arguing that people should forgive abusive men, because it's necessary for them to change.

There is no space in your post for survivors.  Either direct survivors of Hugo's actions, or survivors of similar violence.  There is no space for people to draw their own boundaries around an abusive man.  Indeed nothing appears to matter in your post except the perpetrator, and his path to forgiveness.  There is no way of getting a unified response - of promising survivors' forgiveness - which doesn't involve asking or demanding that some people ignore their own boundaries.

There is nothing new or transformative in arguing that survivors and those who care about their abuse, should not have boundaries because other people believe that the man has changed. Just a month ago I was in a meeting where someone argued that as far as we knew Omar Hamed hadn't tried to rape anyone all year, and therefore it was divisive to argue that he should not be welcome at our political event.

I believe that part of being OK with an abusive man, has to be accepting that other people may not be OK and respecting their boundaries.

To pressure women to be OK, act OK, or pretend to be or act OK around a man who has been abusive towards woman, is a profoundly anti-feminist act. That pressure cannot be part of anything that is truly justice, or truly transformative.  


I don't have a generic answer about how I'd act if someone I cared about had raped someone.  There are too many variables. Obviously if anyone came to me seeking absolution, I would tell them that is not something I can give.   But, if I decided that I was OK continuing the relationship then I would tell him that he needed to respect people's boundaries around him, that some people would never be OK with him, and that he needed to find a way of being that wouldn't pressure other people and their boundaries (and he would have to be on board with that for me to continue the relationship). I would respect other people's boundaries around him, and try to ensure that I didn't put direct or indirect pressure on them.

I feel incredibly lucky, ten years down the track, that I have never had to respond to intimate violence from a man  I cared about.  But I have seen the harm that women do to survivors of violence in defence of men they care about. I've seen manipulative men get women to do their dirty work. I've seen the way 'he's changed' has been used by other women to pressure both direct survivors, and women who are uncomfortable with abusive men more generally.  I hope I have learned enough to recognise those roles and refuse them.
Do we actually believe that people can change? If so, how do we want them to show us they’ve changed? Is absolution possible? Who decides the answers to these questions?
In reverse order, groups that have genuine collective decision making processes can make group answers to these questions.  Otherwise the decisions can only be individual.

Absolution is a religious idea that is not compatible with liberation.  Whatever we have done, we have done. Nothing and no-one can stop us from being the person who has done the worst actions we have taken.

Abusive men show me that they've changed when they stop hurting women and don't use intimediaries to do their dirty work.  If an abusive man was OK with people talking about their abuse, was OK with people not being OK with it, and understood that responses to their abuse cannot be all about them, but about the people they hurt, then I'd probably be willing to believe that he'd changed.

And yes - I do think people can change. I think feminists have to believe in the possibility of abusive men changing otherwise there's no hope but a separatist commune.  

But I won't stake anything on that belief, not anyone's safety, or comfort, or boundaries. I don't like the odds.  Nobody knows how to stop someone from abusing their power, and most attempts to do so are failures (that's from friends who have worked in the field and reviewed the research).

I know this post sounds despairing.  Believe me when I say none of the ways that abusive men I've known have responded to being challenged has given me any reason to hope.  

But still I hope.  And it is that hope that lead me to write this post.  That hope that makes me believe that it is worth writing about my experiences and more and less harmful ways of dealing with abusive men.

In recognition that we are part of the same struggle,


* I haven't read the book The Revolution Starts at Home yet, but I have read the zine (warning that link is a pdf) and recommend it, even though as this post probably shows I am deeply unsure about any way forward. I should point out that one of the problems with the post I am responding to that other people have discussed is the way it renders invisible the work of WoC dealing with issues that you say feminists don't deal with.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Scarlet Road

I have seen this trailer posted on tumblr and blogs a few times:

Scarlet Road Video from Paradigm Pictures on Vimeo.

Something about the way it was posted as an awesome exciting and sex positive feminist trailer bothered me, but I hadn't figured out just what it was.  The post on Jezebel reminded me of the sort of comment that I've seen in a few places (and I expect nothing from Jezebel, but they're not the only people who have written about it like this).

A post on the The F-Word responded to Jezebel directly:

I then read in Jezebel about a sex worker who is awesome because she works with disabled clients, which apparently makes her intriguing.

And I started to wonder, what do you think of us? Of me? In these three stages, the mainstream, and the left-wing, tell me that I am inferior, and I am other. So very, very other.
I share Philippa's concern with the way people who celebrate this trailer present disabled people and their sexuality, and I want to unpack why I was so troubled by the many people who posed this with the idea that it was awesome, exciting and amazing.


At this movie's centre is a paradox.  It's argument is that men with disability need to express their sexuality just like everyone else.  However, the existence of the movie posits sex with people with disabilities as different.  This trailer, and the people posting it, appear to believe that sex work with men with disabilities is in some important way different from other sex work.  The Jezebel post described her as 'awesome' based on nothing but the trailer.  None of this makes sense if you genuinely believe what the trailer is presenting as the central premise of the documentary.

Of course the reality is that disabled people are de-sexualised by society, there sexuality is denied, and the very limited idea of sex, sexuality and desire that is promoted in our society has no room for them.  That's the social model of disability - disabled people's sexuality is not different because of their bodies, but because of how society responds to their bodies.

The paradox could be undone with media that centres the experiences of people with disabilities.  A story which starts from them could show that there is nothing intrinsically different between disabled people's sexuality and non-disabled people's sexuality - but there is a profound difference in how their bodies and sexuality is treated.

However, by centring this documentary around an able-bodied women, all that happens is the paradox is reinforced, she is awesome because of what she does.


The trailer talks about 'people with disabilities' - but it portrays and focuses on men with disabilities.  Obviously as a feminist I have a problem anytime that happens, but rendering women with disabilities invisible in this context reinforces damaging and pervasive ideas about women's sexuality and about disability.

This is not the first piece of media, which has discussed men with disabilities' sexuality and sex work in a way that makes women with disabilities invisible.   I've been keeping an eye on these stories for at least ten years, and there is a pattern.  Every so often some media outlet puts out a story about men with disabilities and sex work, often crass and offensive, sometimes in a faux 'it makes you think' kind of way about the welfare state's interaction with legal sex work.  This trailer is less awful on those grounds - but it should also be seen as part of an existing tradition.

Why is the media always the same? Why is it unthinkable and unprintable that women with disabilities have sexual desire.  To understand that we have to look at the intersection between dominant ideas about disability and dominant ideas about women's sexuality.

One of the most fundamental (and damaging) ideas in our existing understanding of sexuality is that men desire and women are desired.  This is reflected in a lot of our language about sexuality (think about how the phrase 'sexy' is used by and about women) and the way sexuality is understood in public discourses.

An identical video where the genders which switched, would not have the same feel good response.  Because viewers would assume that the women with disabilities portrayed wanted to be desired as well as have their desires met. In reality of course, most people want both to desire and to be desired. That people with disabilities might desire requires a much smaller change to our understanding of sexuality than that people of disabilities might be desirable.

Therefore the invisibility of women with disabilities in discussions about disability and sexuality, is about the sexual double standard and is based on accepting that women don't desire.  But it is also about bounding and limiting the discussion of disability and sexuality to desire, not desirability, and cutting off the possibility that we might challenge our idea of desirability.

Ultimately it's a failure of imagination.  When I say I believe another world is possible, I mean one where women desire and men are desired, and where disability is not constructed as antithetical to either.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Support locked-out workers

111 Meat workers are still locked-out from the jobs at in Rangitikei.  They've been more than six weeks without wages and they need support.

This weekend is a national day of fund-raising and action in support of the locked-out workers.  McDonalds are being targetted, as they are one of the primary customers of the company.  There are events organised all over the country:

10:00: McDonalds Whangarei, Bank Street – Mehau,, 0226894509

West Auckland
10:00: McDonalds Lincoln Rd, CNR Lincoln Rd & Moselle Ave, Carol Gilmour,, 0274 827 030

Central Auckland
11:00: McDonalds Grey Lynn, 102-112 Great North Road - Louisa Jones,, 027 590 0071

12:00: McDonalds Five cross roads, 231 Peach Grove Road - Jared Philips,, 029-494-9863

12:00: McDonalds Tauranga at CNR 11th Ave & Cameron Road - Jill Kerr, 021 626 094 

New Plymouth
11:00: McDonalds New Plymouth on Cnr Eliott and Leach Sts – Sam Jones,, 0275448563 (pls txt) 

11:00: McDonalds Palmerston North, Cnr Rangitikei & Featherston Sts - Simon Oosterman,, 021 885 410

1:00: McDonalds Bulls, 95 Bridge St, Bulls – Wayne Ruscoe,, 0275910056

1:00: McDonalds Feilding, 78 Kimbolton Rd – Joceyln Pratt,, 021 551 991 

1:00: McDonalds Levin, Cnr Stanley & Oxford Sts – Simon Oosterman,, 021 885 410 

1:00: McDonalds Wanganui, 314 Victoria Street – Terangi Wroe - 0220165199

Hutt Valley
11:00: McDonalds Petone, 29 Victoria Street - Toby Boraman,

12:00: McDonalds Manners Mall, 55 Manners Street, Tali Williams,, 021 204 4087

11:00 - McDonalds Greymouth, 57 Tainui Street – Garth Elliot, - 0275900084 

10:00 – Banner making at Occupy Corner.
11:00: McDonalds Riccarton, CNR Riccarton Rd & Matipo St, Riccarton - Matt Jones,, 029 201 3837

10:00: McDonalds George St Dunedin, 232 George Street - Malcolm Deans,, 0210566593

Dylan would like to attend a protest if someone can help him organise it: 

If you can't attend then donate some money (info on donating here)  If employers discover they can starve workers into accepting wages 25% wage cuts then who is next?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Reasons to be cheerful

I'm not feeling particularly cheerful tonight.  You can read details of my not cheerfulness over at The Hand Mirror, where I live blogged the election.

This parliament will be the first parliament for 12 years that does not have a majority for abortion law reform.  There was never a majority to talk about abortion, or to have the debate, but there has been a majority that would support abortion law if they had to vote.  That majority almost certainly no longer exists, thanks to the mob Winston Peters brought in, and the high vote for National.  Important abortion rights advocates in the Labour party are gone: Steve Chadwick, Carol Beaumont and Carmel Sepoluni (although there is a small chance of either, but not both, of the last two getting in on the specials).  While we can expect some turn-over and some of them to get back in this term, it won't change the fundamental maths and ability to add up to 61.

While high National polling was inevitable, and under 48% is actually much less worse than it could be, the results themselves are pretty dire.  My main hope for the evening was that both John Banks and Peter Dunne would lose their seat, that they didn't bring any cronies with them is not a particularly big silver lining.  I did idly think "well it'd be funny if NZFirst got back in" in the last few days - I didn't mean it! That's all bad news.  I'm not sad about Labour's collapse or glad about the Greens rise - apart from how it effects abortion politics.  I would have liked to see Annette Sykes in there - although I'm sure she'll just as useful work from where she is now.

I find the rise of the Conservative party pretty depressing - a sign that money can buy your votes.  But also everything felt reactionary last night - and the news that almost 3% of people want National to be more reactionary than they are - is pretty depressing.

The coverage was also pretty reactionary. TVOne's election coverage was so bad that I considered advocating a shift to TV3 - where Paul Henry, John Tamihere, Chris Trotter and Rodney Hide waited for us.  It was wall to wall bloke, bloke, bloke bloke, matey, bloke.  Which was only emphasised when they brought on Jacinda Arden and Nikkie Kaye and talked about their looks, or had Petra Bagust circulating round a party. On top of that with Willie Jackson on TVOne, John Tamihere on TV3 and Derek Fox on Maori TV each channel had its own Clint Rickards apologist.  I'm not surprised by the male centred nature of this coverage, but the programmers should be ashamed.  

Having said that there are always some reasons to be cheerful.  

  • MMP is looking pretty safe.
  • Turn-out was low.  I find knowing that 35% of eligible voters voted National much more reassuring than the near 50% you hear in the news.
  • National actually lost 100,000 votes over the last three years (Labour lost 200,000)  
  • Don Brash is resigning his farcical time as ACT leader.
  • Paul "the most important thing to me that people in prison can't vote" Quinn is out of parliament, at least for now.
  • Paula Bennett may yet lose Waitakere - that would be a thing of beauty.
  • There are some strong advocates for abortion rights within the Green caucus.
  • Mojo Mathers should get in on the Specials.  Having a deaf MP should have some pretty awesome flow-on effects when it comes to accessibility and entrenching NZ Sign as an official language.
  • Kelly Buchanan got 36 votes - so my friend should have had a pretty good night.

There's a more fundamental reason to be cheerful - and I'll expand on this tomorrow - we don't have to accept the world the politicians want to make.  If voting is the most important political act you do, then election night is always going to be depressing.  But if you dream of a world that is better, then there are going to plenty of opportunities to help make it over the next three years.  After all the biggest steps towards women's liberation in this country were made under right-wing Male Chauvanist Piggy Muldoon.  

Friday, November 25, 2011

How I'm Voting

So in my last election related post before the polls I thought I'd describe my plans for tomorrow. 

Electorate Vote

As I live in Wellington Central I can't use the ridiculously complex analysis I did of electorate seats. On top of that familiarity has certainly bred contempt when it comes to the parliamentary parties' candidates.  

As it happens I can more easily make a case for voting for Paul Foster-Bell the National candidate than either Grant Robertson or James Shaw.  If the polls were swinging differently Paul Foster-Bell could be a tactical abortion vote, but they're not so he's not. James Shaw appears to have been grown in a lab to personify everything those on the left criticise the Greens for.

Then there's Grant Robertson - who gets a lot of support round Wellington.  I don't like him - not just because other people do - I think I sometimes come across as more contrarian than I am. But for actual good policy based reasons on an issue that is important to me.  Grant Robertson was involved in designing the PBRF (performance based research fund) system that is currently doing such damage to tertiary education (and was always going to do damage in exactly the way that it did).  And I am a little bit contrary so any time people on facebook are nice about him I mutter PBRF and get a little more entrenched.  Plus my second rule of voting is "1984: Never forget, Never forgive." - and I take that very seriously.

So who am I going to vote for? I have two choices: Kelly Buchanan - the Alliance candidate I know and broadly agree with (she posted her responses to the Right to Life on The Hand Mirror).  Or the Pirate Party candidate - because I believe new episodes of Joss Whedon TV shows are a fundamental human right.

I will probably vote for Kelly - mostly because I'm very good friends with her partner - and they're going to drink a shot every vote Kelly gets.  It's been a hard year and it's time for my friend to have fun.   Also I don't know the Pirate Party Candidate's position on abortion - and a girl has to have standards.

Party Vote
A few days ago my facebook status was "I think I'm a reasonably unprincipled voter; all I want is to vote for a left-wing party, where no-one in an achievable position on the list is anti-abortion or a rape apologist."  So obviously I've been having trouble figuring out if I can vote at all.

Rule 2 obviously rules out Labour (and I'm looking for a left-wing party).

I've written at some length with my problems with the Greens in general and Russel Norman in particular.  But my not voting for the Greens this time is more fundamental, because my first rule of voting is "Tories are evil": 

I don't care it's a 1 in a 100 chance that the Greens will abstain on confidence and supply for a National party government after the election (and I think it may be higher than that) - it's still astronomically too high. 

So if I'm voting with my party vote I'm voting for Mana.  I was doing a pretty good job of convincing myself to vote for the lizards so the wrong lizards don't get in.  But then I read their policies.  Now some Mana policies are great - the disability policy is radical, and clearly addresses many of the problems with the current system in a way that takes disabled people's lives and liberty really seriously.  And (as you'd expect) their Te Reo and Te Tiriti policy are awesome.   They released their Industrial Relations Policy today and it's very impressive (I am a little worried that a 25% loading which made casualised labour a legal category would entrench casualisation - but since it's not going to happen that's of rather minor concern).

However, their education policy is just weird.  In some places it is strangely specific, but it ignores or is unclear many of the really important education.   So it's very clear that every school needs a community garden, but doesn't mention the level of the operation grant.  It appears to be promoting a work for the student allowance system (but that isn't really clear).

Then there's their National Standards policy:
Abolish National Standards and replace with information that lets parents know how well their children are doing compared to other children, nationally, without the bad effects of the current direction.

On one level the statement is so incoherent to be laughable: abolish National Standards, but standardise where children are nationally in a way that would magically get rid of unspecified 'bad effects'.  This is such a damaging attitude to what education is for.  The point of education should not be measuring children against other children - but about learning.  Children differ so much in what they find hard and what they find easy, what they love and what they struggle with.  I want an education system the values in every child what they are good at, and but also values learning and improving from where a child is.  Measuring children with other children is the antithesis of that.

Their policy to make NZ tobacco free is so ridiculous that it's hard to know how to respond.  The failure of prohibition is pretty well documented when it comes to alcohol and drugs.  Criminalising marijuana has hardly been liberatory for anyone.

On one level it doesn't matter because it's never going to happen.  But I think it shows a fundamentally problematic attitude towards working-class people's lives.  Working-class people are making complex choices about their survival strategies and the path towards liberation involves fighting for more resources and more choices.  Taking away the chance to find a break, breath deeply, and get a hit of nicotine so they can keep going from those who feel like they need it is not liberatory.*  They're ignoring all that and instead asking how can we use the power of the state to get people to behave how we want them to behave?

With National Standards and Tobacco in particular - my problem is not just that the policy is bad, but that it shows a way of thinking about society and state roles that I fundamentally disagree with and makes me distrust the way they are thinking about politics.  

See writing this I have almost persuaded myself not to vote for them.  But I really do want to vote for the least worst option, and they are it.  Unless something dramatic happens in the next 24 hours I'll party-vote Mana.

Referendum Part 1

(I can on occasion be brief)

Referendum Part 2
I think I've decided to vote for STV.

STV is the least bad of the four options.  It also has the added advantage that it'll struggle against MMP, because then it'll be seen as just as (if not more complicated).  In general I don't like it, because I think it kind of formalises protest votes and encourages (or forces in Australia) people to vote for candidates who will win, and it has a high threshold for minor parties.  Although it  would make voting on abortion easy.

If SM was in the picture at all, I would consider voting FPP - but as the choice is between STV and FPP - it's pretty simple.

I'll be live-blogging the election at The Hand Mirror.   Expect mostly mockery, bile, depression, and obsessive attention to who is in parliament and where they stand on abortion.

* I guess I should be clear here that I addiction isn't liberatory either.  I totally support any moves that makes it harder for people to get addicted to ciagerettes and assistance towards quitting.

Monday, November 21, 2011

An idiosyncratic guide to voting for abortion law reform: Part 2 - Electorates

So yesterday I looked at the party vote at this election.  Today some thoughts on the electorate vote.

It's fairly easy to vote on principal when it comes to the electorate vote.  All you need to do is find out where your various candidates stand and then decide how you're going to vote accordingly.  Which obviously isn't that easier because many candidates are not particularly willing to tell you where they stand on abortion.  But if you can get information (and do share in the comments anything you have) voting on principal isn't complex.  If you live in Rotorua choosing between Steve Chadwick and Todd McClay is clear - McClay has only voted on abortion once and voted reactionary.  Although choosing what to do in Invercargill where Lesley Soper - known SPUCer, runs against Eric Roy would require careful inquisition of the minor candidates.

What I'm going to concentrate in this post is how to vote tactically pro-choice in this election.  For example, even if you know that Andrew Little has better politics on abortion law reform than Jonathan Young (which seems likely) - the reality is they're both probably going to be in parliament anyway.  So you can vote on a principal basis on that occasion - but it's going to have very little tactical effect.

This post is going to focus on marginal electorates where the local vote may have an impact on the make-up of parliament.  A basic assumption is that the make-up of parliament is more important than whether a paticular MP has a label as the local MP.  I know this is an assumption many in parliament don't share (see the ridiculous focus on New Plymouth or Auckland Central).  But I think the make-up of parliament is what matters when it comes to abortion law reform.   So what are the marginals seats where voting can make a difference to the make up of parliamentary support for Abortion Law Reform?

This is the simplest and most obvious - if you support abortion law reform vote Charles Chavel (I believe Katrina Shanks is also liberal for a National MP on abortion law, but she has a lesser chance of getting in).  Peter Dunne is not as bad on the issue as he once was (the rumour is that in 2002 no move on abortion law was an unwritten part of United Future and Labour's coalition deal - this is ) and amusingly right to life are mad at him.  However, he is not a reliable on the issue, and likely to vote conservatively on incrementalist legislation.  Charles Chavel is an advocate.  Getting rid of Peter Dunne would be a victory for abortion law reform - and supporters of abortion law reform can vote for Charles Chavel with a clear conscious.

I would vote for Charles Chavel and I can't bring myself to vote for the Greens because they're too right wing  (and because of Russel Norman).

The same principle applies in Epsom as John Banks is a known reactionary and Don Brash is completely incoherent on the matter.  This applies even though Paul Goldsmith's position is less clear than Charles Chavel's.

Te Tai Tokerau
My understanding is that Hone is broadly supportive of abortion rights.  He would bring in other candidates who are more likely to support abortion law reform than the rest of parliament.  Kelvin Davis will be in anyway.  From an abortion politics point of view, this is the reverse of Epsom.

This one is also simple for another reason: Jonathon Fletcher is incredibly reactionary on abortion (see the smiley faces on Value your vote).  He is number 67 on the National party list - and so won't get in unless he wins the seat.

Chris Hipkins' ability to enter parliament is also looking shaky - Labour need to do better than the polls say for him to be in on the list (but not by much).  I don't know where he stands on abortion (and would like to know), but he's not going to be as conservative as Jonathon Fletcher.

West-Coast Tasman
Here is where things start to get nice and complex.  Both Damien O'Connor and Chris Auchinvole are conservative on abortion.  However, Chris Auchivole is 43 on National's list and looking pretty safe, whereas Damien O'Connor is not on Labour's list.  Therefore, in terms of abortion law reform there is definitely a reason to not vote for Damien O'Connor and a reason to vote for Chris Auchinvole to keep Damien O'Connor out.

On top of that there is another way of looking at the make-up of parliament.  As well as looking at who we're bringing in on electorate seats, we also need to consider which list seat candidate they're replacing.  Now this gets super complicated - but I think from the point of view of abortion law reform the people who are looking tantalising close but not close enough are Steve Chadwick and Kate Sutton - at number 34 and 35.  Every electorate seat that Labour wins from someone who is further down the list than they are makes it harder for Steve Chadwick and Kate Sutton to get in.  If you're voting in marginal electorates consider where the Labour candidate is on the list before voting for them (note that Chris Hipkins is further up the list than Steve Chadwick and Kate Sutton, otherwise I wouldn't be as supportive of voting for him in Rimutaka).

Voting against Damien O'Connor doesn't just keep an anti-abortion voice out of parliament - it also makes it more likely that abortion law reform advocates will get in.

I think there is both a principled and a practical reason for voting for Hekia Parata in Mana.  The first is that my understanding is that she is more liberal than Kris Faafoi on the issue (who was both incoherent and reactionary when he talked about parental notification in May- does anyone have the link - I ranted about it on facebook but didn't keep a link).  The principled issue needs more research and I think it's important to hear what they say when asked specific questions.

But the practical choice is clear.  Hekia Parata will be in parliament anyway, and Kris Faafoi is higher on the list than Steve Chadwick and Kate Sutton.  Voting for Hekia Parata also makes it more likely that abortion law reform advocates will get in.

Palmerston North  Ōtaki & Christchurch East

So how far do you take this approach?  In Palmerston North, two people whose position on abortion is unkinown are running, in Otaki the National candidate is Nathan Guy, an arch-reactionary (who will get in anyway) and in Christchurch East the Labour candidate is Lianne Dalziel who is a known supporter of abortion law reform.

I think it's counter-productive to vote against supporters of abortion law reform to try and get better supporters of abortion law reform in.  There are too many variables, and I think MPs are such cowards on abortion those who are prepared to say their position should be rewarded in a pavlovian kind of way.  I also wouldn't vote for Nathan Guy myself - partly because it's not necessarily - there's no way Labour is picking up that seat.  But I would  probably avoid voting for the Labour candidate.  And I would seriously think about voting for the Nat in Palmerston North.

Te Tai Tonga
The same argument about Labour applies when it comes to Te Tai Tonga as Rino Tirikatene is higher up the list than Steve Chadwick and Kate Sutton.  However, there the effect is more complicated because Rahui Katene won't get in on the list anyway. I don't know about Rahui Katene.  Without knowledge that she supports abortion law reform I think it's risky to vote for her on the basis that she might bring in advocates on the labour list.

Tamaki Makaura
Here the key piece of information is Pita Sharples position on abortion - which I don't think we can judge on his very limited voting record.  Pita Sharples won't get in unless he wins Tamaki Makaura (whereas Shane Jones is in no matter what), so if enough information could be found about his position it would be a relatively simple decision.

There are many other arguments you could make.  For example, there is probably a case for voting Paul Foster-Bell in Wellington Central, since he is not guaranteed a place and a support of abortion law reform in National's caucus would be useful.  However, given that Grant Robertson is demonstrably better on the issue than Foster-Bell, and Foster-Bell isn't really borderline because National are polling at a gajillion, and Wellington Central isn't actually marginal - I don't think the argument is very convincing. But I think talking and thinking about electorate seats in this way is useful.  I'd be really interested in hearing where people's analysis, judgement and information differs from mine.

Of course the line is somewhat subjective.  Could I get up in the morning and look myself in the mirror knowing I'd voted for a Nat - even for the best reasons?  I'm not sure, but I do know that I'd vote for Paul Goldsmith if I lived in Epsom.  And abortion law reform is more important to me than keeping ACT out of parliament.

Updated: I got Kelvin Davis's place on the list wrong so I've edited that.  On top of that I've realized that on current polling (things have changed a bit since I started writing this post) more pro-choice women are in hazardous positions further down the list - on what Curia says today Carmel Sepoluni and Carol Beaumont are only just in if no marginals change hand.  The bottom line is that in the labour party the people who most vocally support abortion law reform tend to be on the list rather than in winnable seats.  Therefore, supporting Labour electorate candidates does not necessarily support the abortion law reform voices within the party.

An idiosyncratic guide to voting pro-choice this election: Part 1 party vote

Voting for abortion law reform* is notoriously hard in New Zealand.  In 1978, after parliament passed our current laws – Eric Geireinger wrote an entire book on how to vote for abortion law reform (and the effort generally failed).  In desperation some women suggested ‘Vote prohibition for repeal’ – so there’s this very weird increase in the vote about whether alcohol should be banned in 1978.

It is impossible to vote on a principled basis on abortion – because no party has solid policy on the issue.  The Greens do have some sort of policy, but it does not promise abortion law reform, and other parties just say ‘it’s a conscience vote’.  On top of this most politicians’ strongest view about abortion is “DON’T MAKE ME TALK ABOUT IT”.  So finding out what various candidates’ views are is a combination of taking opportunities to ask questions, gossip, and instinct.

More than that - voting won’t get us abortion law reform.  That will only come about if we educate, agitate, and organise - force MPs’ hands. 

However, I think it’s worth talking about the different parties and some electorate races.  Mostly because it allows for complicated nerdy calculations (I have made spreadsheets to assist me with this post).  There are other places with great information ALRANZ have a blog post discussing the campaign, they also have party guide and a record of how MPs have voted.  Although the voting records need to be read with a careful eye of the history of the votes. Tertiary Women's Focus Group include abortion in their voting guide. There's also Family First's guide which I find amusing.

The second part of this post will be about electorate seats and is considerably more idiosyncratic than this first part, which just runs down the parties. I’ll mostly be talking about MPs who stand out from what is usual in their parties, known supporters of abortion law reform in right wing parties and known opponents in left wing parties (while people’s position on abortion doesn’t shake down along party lines exactly – what is normal within a party does).  But I will also be talking about advocates – mostly on our side who we have reason to believe will actively advocate for abortion law reform.  But I’ll also talk about the leaders of the reactionaries as well. 

I have also focused on the candidates on the cusp of being elected.  Paul Hutchinson from National is the only member of National's caucus to vote against Judith Collins bill for parental notification but he’s number 26 on National’s list and has a seat so he’s going to get elected whatever happens.  Likewise we can’t do much about Clayton Cosgrove, who is anti-abortion, and at number 8 on Labour’s list.

Note: All calculations in this post are based on the assumption that no seats change party and the figures are based on the Curia poll of polls. These are unlikely to pan out exactly.  So it’s probably wise not to be too tactical with your vote

The predominant view in Labour is that abortion law reform in theory (practice is another matter), but that doesn’t mean that we can safely assume any individual Labour MP or candidate supports abortion law reform.  There are definite anti-abortion voices in the party, and unless they’ve been in parliament long enough to have their position on record – or are as vocal as Lesley Soper down in Invercargill – we won’t know who they are.

However, Steve Chadwick is the strongest advocate for abortion law reform currently in parliament.  She is number 34 on the Labour party list, and Kate Sutton, who should be pretty strong on this issue, is number 35.  On current polling neither of them will get in – but it is close.

If Labour rises a little in the polls (or stops sinking) a vote for Labour could be bringing in Steve Chadwick and Kate Sutton.  If the polls continue to sink then it’ll be about bringing in Rick Barker, Deborah Mahuta-Coyle, Stuart Nash, Michael Wood, or Phil Twyford.  Rick Barker spoke reasonably well to oppose Judith Collins parental notification bill, so can probably be relied upon; the others appear to have avoided making any public record of their position on abortion (although I think this post demonstrates the priority Phil Twyford gives to abortion).

A record of anti-abortion labour MPs and candidates would be useful, but unfortunately the DON’T TALK ABOUT IT desire is strong, and the recent voting record is not necessarily a reliable indicator.  Damien O’Connor and Clayton Cosgrove are the two labour MPs that I know are anti-abortion – if people know of others share them in the comments.

The other, equally important and far less accessible information, is who was it who refused to let Steve Chadwick’s bill go forward.

The Greens have policy on abortion – but not policy for abortion law reform.  And that’s not an accident – people are holding that policy up because they are anti-abortion.  I don’t know who that is – I’m not inside the Greens, but I think it’s important to understand that there must be some anti-abortion advocates in there somewhere for the policy not to have got further.

Both Holly Walker and Jan Logie appeared interested in being advocates for abortion law reform at Ladies in the House.  And while you can’t necessarily expect MPs to act based on what they said as candidates to the most sympathetic audience in the country, it’s better than most candidates (another advocate at Ladies in the House was Jordan Carter who is number 40 on the Labour list and unlikely to get in on election night, but may well come in mid-term).  Jan Logie is 9 on the list and currently looking pretty certain, while Holly Walker is 12 and in on current polling – but the Greens have a history of shedding several seats between polling and election day.

The views of other Green candidates on the cusp would be pretty useful to know, but I don’t know them.  I’ve no idea about Steffan Browning, Denise Roche, Julie Genter and Mojo Mathers.  James Shaw who is number 15 supports abortion law reform – my aim is to ensure that at least the Wellington Central candidates don’t get to hide their views.

I actually think Mana is the best bet for ensuring no-one in caucus in opposes abortion law reform.  But that’s mostly based on instinct (and the fact they won’t get many MPs – I certainly wouldn’t begin to guess the position of anyone past Sue Bradford). However, there is no-one who stands out as an abortion law reform advocate in Mana. Mana don’t have policy at the moment, but have said that it will be set by Mana Wahine (and I’d expect that group to come up with good policy).  Getting that position out of Mana took quite a lot of work

I do think it’s to Hone’s credit that he answered Family First’s survey and indicated where he stood on abortion. I find the arrogance of people who want to be representatives, but refuse to say where they stand on issues repulsive and offensive.

Maori Party
The Maori party have taken consistently reactionary positions about abortion.  While I’ve no idea of the position of Waihoroi Shortland or Kaapua Smith (the first two people on the Maori party list) without any indication otherwise it’s probably safest to assume they will not support abortion law reform (and anyway the Maori party are very unlikely to get any list MPs so there’s not much point giving them your list vote – even if you support their actions over the last three years).

National are actually going to get very few list MPs, because they win the vast majority of the electorate seats.  However, any known abortion law reform voices within National would be valuable. Two that I know of are Paul Foster-Bell, who is 56 on the National list and Jackie Blue, who is 46 – and because of the way the electorate seats shake down there’s only 2 actual list places between them. At current polling they are both in, and Claudette Hauiti, Joanne Hayes, Leonie Hapeta, are on the border line. Their opinions are unknown, but people going to electorate meetings in Mangere, Dunedin South, Palmerston North and Wigram could usefully ask.

If polling does slip then voting National will be more likely to bring in Paul Foster-Bell and Jackie Blue.  But then if it slips a bit further (or National does very well in marginals) then Tau Henare number 40 on the list and 57th in if no electorate seats change hands, is probably in trouble.  This would be a very good thing, because he is an extreme reactionary.  However, there are many hazards in the National party when it comes to Abortion Law Reform, starting at number 2.

Fun fact, in 2002, before he was even an MP I wrote to John Key the candidate and asked him where he stood on abortion.  He replied with one of the clearest statements that abortion law should be based the right of the pregnant person to control their body that I received from anyone (I didn’t receive many responses).  Make of that what you will.

To the surprise of no-one ACT’s supposed liberalism is optional when it comes to women.  John Banks is an absolute reactionary.  The only person he is likely to bring in is Don Brash – who doesn’t seem to know what he thinks about abortion (see the family first site I will give ACT candidates some credit for sharing their opinions).

New Zealand First, Conservative Party and United Future must all be considered anti-abortion parties based on their history and their leaders’ positions.

Abortion isn’t the only consideration about how I’m going to party vote – and I’m pretty intense about the issue – so I don’t think it’ll be the only consideration of many readers.  But I think information about who is on the cut off, and their position on abortion can be useful for people who are choosing between parties (which again I’m not).

If you’re choosing between Labour and the Greens, for example, figuring out which vote is more likely to bring in advocates based on polling would be useful.  On the other hand if you’re choosing between National and ACT, figuring out whether you’re bringing in unknowns, vague supporters of abortion law reform or arch reactionaries by voting National is probably relevant – voting for ACT almost certainly brings in someone who doesn’t know what he thinks about abortion (if it brings in anyone).

There are big gaps in this post – a lot of people on the cusp whose views on abortion are a big black hole.  So if you’re at an electorate meeting, or someone wants to shake your hand or kiss your baby, then ask them where they stand and share it in the comments.

But to return to a theme – the sorry state of the information really does demonstrate that it won’t be by voting that we’ll bring about abortion law reform. 

* I have deliberately avoided using the term ‘pro-choice’ in this post.  I believe to support the right of women (and all pregnant people) to choose, you must also support the right to have children. 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

In solidarity with Russel Norman's EA*

Russel Norman's decision to stand down his EA because of the actions of her partner is a feminist issue. I'm going to leave alone why the Greens thought it appropriate to condemn putting stickers on National party billboards (although it doesn't look good for principled left-wing green voters).** But why is his EA even part of the discussion?

Russel Norman decided to go public with the fact that his EA was in a relationship with Jolyon White. He then decided to use the power he has because she works for him to stand her down (I know that he is not her direct employer but Parliamentary Services are pretty responsive to MPs wishes).

From an employment perspective this is creepy enough - she is being stood down because she didn't tell her boss something her partner said months ago and instead made it clear to her partner that she didn't want anything to do with his actions. This is a pretty horrific view of employment and the right bosses have over their employees lives. A view Russel Norman endorsed.

But there is an important gendered to this. Russel Norman's action reinforces a world-view that defines women in relationships with men through their partners' beliefs and actions and therefore denies their autonomy and even existence. People have condemned Julie's writing on the hand mirror and tried to silence her, because of who her partner is. This discriminatory way of treating of women in relationships with men is systemic. Men are not treated this way, and are not defined by the actions of their partners. Russel Norman has endorsed this double standard by the way he has treated his EA.

Although this is far from the only feminist reason not to vote for any party which has Russell Norman at number 2 on its list. This was, after all, his assessment of Clint Rickards:

I don’t see that being involved in consenting group sex is any reason for him not to go back to work. And people use sex aids so using a police baton in a consenting situation doesn’t seem grounds for refusing him his job back.

Something to think about in the polling booth.

* Obviously this construction of her identity is problematic. However, I decided since I didn't think her identity should be public in this way I didn't feel comfortable putting yet another hit into google about who she was.
** I find the idea that political parties should be able to put up their truly inane hoardings in publicly owned space, but it is morally wrong to talk back to those hoardings, no matter what you are saying, a really depressing view of political dialogue.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Comment update

I know comments are mostly dead here, but I thought I should let people know that I'm experimenting with Disqus.  If I like it I'll export previous comments over to this forum, otherwise I'll go back to blogger.  But until I've decided I'm not going to export all the old comments so they'll be hidden for a week or so.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Pro-choice means opposing welfare 'reform'

I don't have time to write a long rant about this - it's late I only have time for the principle:

Being pro-choice means creating a world where every person who is pregnant can make a decision free of any form of coercion whether or not they want to continue the pregnancy.

The welfare reforms proposed by National are economic coercion.*  Supporting women (and all pregnant people's) right to choose, means opposing these reforms and going further and demanding (among other things) a living wage for women on the DPB.


I'd like to say more about the 'reforms' themselves and explain why they aren't actually about getting women on the DPB into work, but misogyny and punishment.  But all I have time for is this:

[Text "Want a job, Bro?" "You know I can't do your ghost jobs, John" for context see youtube]

* As are the current DPB levels which were deliberately set at levels that were unable to buy adequate food