Jun 30, 2010

Real Men are Feminists

Men, it would seem, are welcome in the feminist movement, but not together with the women. Atleast, according to the organizers of last Friday's big G8 rally in Toronto.

Arriving early for the "feminist picnic" with fellow Oxfam volunteers, we made posters, made up riffs on Tina Turner songs ("What's genitalia got to do, got to do with it?), and looked forward to another great afternoon of campaigning together for gender justice.

Even more exciting was when it was announced that the feminist contingent was to lead the multi-issue parade. But when we shuffled up there, a woman scurried over to me and asked what I'm pretty sure is not a standard bar pick-up line:
"Do you identify as a biological male?"
"Um, yes" I cautiously answered, wondering if it was a trick question, or at least what on earth it had to do with marching in solidarity for women's rights. She clarified that fast enough: "Then you'll have to move back in the parade, behind that banner there (a banner for disabled rights about 30 metres back). This front area is only for women and trans people."

"But I'm here for gender justice, with my Oxfam friends" I protested. Seeing no room for bargaining, I shrugged and said, "I disagree with your politics, but this isn't the time to have this discussion" and started to move back. A much more angry woman shouted at me, "You're always at the front of the line - take your turn back there!"

So for the rest of the parade I held up my carefully painted sign "REAL MEN ARE FEMINISTS" sign and marched with the Sandanistas, with the immigrant rights folk, with the tar sands opposers and Free Tibet-ers and Boshevicks, wondering how on earth me and my sign and my apparently offensive body parts would have weakened the message of solidarity and womens rights being expressed by my female and transgender companions up front. And for the rest of the rally, a few self-appointed penis-police continually shooed all men away from anywhere near the front of the march.

Thankfully, many other women I respect do not share this exclusionary opinion. Maude Marlowe, head of the Council of Canadians and one of Canada's most influential and progressive thinkers, had told us last week at the opening of the Peoples Summit that the feminist movement must be open to men, that progress depends on all of us coming together. Oxfam Canada is an open, inclusive organization dedicated to gender justice. The many dedicated feminists and progressive thinkers - female and male - with whom I have shared this experience all expressed surprise and did not agree with it.

I would dearly have loved to have the discussion with the dedicated rally organizers, wanting to know their reasons which are presumably based on significant experience and forethought, but that never happened. If any of you readers can help me understand what their thinking was, I honestly would like to hear. I spent the rest of the rally trying to stay open to any understanding of their rationale, but none came. Instead I kept having my photo taken and receiving big smiling thumbs-up from hundreds of kindred women and men, while up at the front a group of women and transgender folk were demanding justice and equality from the patriarchy but not allowing men to be part of that message.

Happy ending - the even bigger rally Saturday had a strong Oxfam contingent of all genders marching together with the strong message of gender justice. The perfect ending to an imperfect but immensely satisfying and challenging time in Toronto.

Jun 27, 2010

Strong Enough for Non-Violent Protest?

Violence arises from powerlessness; it is the implosion of impotence - Rollo May

I survived the G8 protests. Participated in a wonderfully coordinated Peaceful rally, and managed not to get accidentally or emotionally swept up in the second faction which broke away to confront the police in more direct and violent ways. I witnessed police kicking a man they'd taken down, tear gas lobbing formation, battalions on bikes and horseback and foot with an array of weapons, pounding their batons on their shields in intimidation.

I also witnessed thousands of angry Canadians and worldwide friends take on the police in many ways. Deliberately taunting and inviting abuse. Lobbing full water bottles and even a bicycle helmet at the police Dancing in and out of the wall of police lining the streets. Setting 3 police cars on fire, smashing windows, shouting all their rage at the faceless officers without acknowledging the people behind the shields.

It was easy to share that anger, feel deeply intimidated and betrayed and worried for the future of our free nation by the police state and by the impunity of the corporate-agenda G8. There was part of me wishing I too could wear a black bandanda and throw a golf ball through a Starbucks window and angrily sing out "we're not gonna take it." The fact that I didn't speaks in part to not wanting to acknowledge or empower this darker side of my own humanity.

A second reason for not joining the mob was the logistics that I need to back to Chicago to pick up my kids, and can't really come back in July for a court hearing. But really, is there ever a convenient time to make a stand?

A third and heavier factor I was weighing was whether this Quakerly commitment to non-violence comes from a position of strength of conviction, or from fear. Part of me feels paralyzed in the face of such brute strength of these legions of armed police in army attack formation. Not of being arrested - that would be a badge of honour (not necessarily a good motivation either, but true) - but of the oppressive and seemingly unbeatable societal power they represent.

After acknowledging my Darth Vader side that would love to kick some cop butt, and my scared orphan side that shies away from the violence, I am then free to explore it with my brain. Intellectually, I analyze that the violent protesters play right into The Man's hands. They take the media spotlight completely away from the issues we are trying to raise and the G8 leaders are trying to hide. They justify the police presence and tactics. They further marginalize our movement, giving mainstream viewers an easy reason to write us off.

Just when all this anger, practicalities, fear and intellect was all swirling too hazily in my head, three people showed me true power. A couple sat down 20 feet in front of the advancing police line, crosslegged, linking elbows. A third person sat and joined them, linking the centre man's other elbow. They sat in beautiful, strong silence as the police took the challenge and advanced forward. The first line of officers broke to either side of them, then closed rank again so that the 3 protesters were engulfed in a sea of blue uniforms and riot gear.

All we could see next through the police wall were them passively, non-violently resisting arrest. They were forcefully separated, then their limp bodies dragged to the side where they were handcuffed and put in the back of the van.

What if I swallowed my fear and anger and logistics and had joined them? What if all 500+ people who were arrested last night had been sitting with them? What if all 10,000 of us marchers had sat with them, arms linked, blocking the entire road for blocks and blocks, filling the tv screens worldwide with a scene of Peaceful but immovable resistance? And who knows, maybe all 19,000 police and security officers would have also joined? We still would have had degrees of hatred and anger and fear in our hearts, but in overcoming those we would have assumed and expressed a deeper Power.

Jun 25, 2010

Pieces of the Puzzle

In trying to puzzle through how to best use this moment in history the other day, I made the mistake of looking at it in isolation. I was wanting this one week to bring about some change, to have by itself a lasting impact on the course of history. A very normal, narrow form of activist arrogance (how many times throughout history have people said that THIS is the defining moment?)

An UTNE Reader Article brought me back to my senses. The struggles for reproductive rights or climate justice or any of the issues we're raising here have all been going on for years, decades, even centuries. This particular weekend - just one of two G8/G20 summits this year - is but one of many possible moments to mobilize people and send a message, or even to generate new ideas and energies.

We the collective architects of social change have to hold it in the perspective of the full history of the struggle. At this point in the timeline, what are the best strategies to advance the agenda; how do we take advantage of the prevailing energy and attention and agenda? And how do we accept a small step forward, or even slowing down a backward slide (as in the case of Harper's chipping away at hard-won abortion rights), as a significant step in the long journey?

It's important that I'm here. It's important that a large number of people are here sending a strong message, and building solidarity. But no more important than the three years I've served on the Oxfam board, or the 44 years that Oxfam Canada has been doing this work, or women's rights movements dating at least as far back as Dr. Emily Stowe in 1878, or...

Jun 24, 2010

Billion Dollar Smoke Screen

For the low low price of 1.2 billion dollars (officially), Stephen Harper has built a fence high enough to hide all the G8 dirty dealings and hypocrisy. Media and the public are spending so much energy on that boondoggle that they're ignoring the bigger issues of what the leaders are talking about, let alone what the rest of have to say.

Yesterday's reproductive rights rally did make the local TV news. They reported the number of police (outnumbering us 3:1), the traffic blockages, and the fact that there was no violence. Not one interview with a marcher, not one mention of why we were out there, nothing but security.

The Toronto Sun's cover page proudly promised "10 Pages of Summit Coverage!", with an accompanying picture of police on motorcycles. Here's what was inside:
p.4 - bomb materials found in someone's house
p.5 - arrest of a potential agitator
p.6 - outrage about the cost of security
p.7 - editorial that police should not use the sound cannon
p.8 - security in Huntsville
p.9 - assassination threat on prime minister
p.10 - earthquake that happened during yesterday's rally
p.18 - letters to the editor about the cost of security
p.19 - risk of property damage to toronto buildings by protesters
p.63 - recipes for summit-themed drinks: "The Spiced Reform", "The Fiscal Freeze", "The Deal Maker" and "The Summit Shake-up

On the bottom of page 19 was the only article dealing with anything close to a summit issue - energy. The whole article was lamenting the rising cost of electricity, which will "add another $1800 to the bill of his 2,300 square-foot house", caused by "all of the massive so-called green energy contracts."

Is there really that little interest and respect for what the citizens and non-profit organizations have to say? Or has Harper created such an enormous distraction that he's diverted our attention away from why we all - the leaders and activists alike - are really here? This alleged boondoggle looks more like a billion dollar blindfold.

Protest, Peace and Patience

After a full week now of G8 protests, summits and meetings, I've been alternately inspired and frustrated by the process we activists are using. What (if anything) is the best way to effect change, influence leaders, change public understanding and priorities, and come up with innovative sustainable solutions?

The Gender Justice Summit was powerful, extremely well run, a great diversity of speakers, high energy - so many good things with high education/background value. BUT, for a whole weekend we listened to panel after panel sharing their creative ideas and brave experience, but not until the final 30 minutes did we get to sit in smaller groups and talk about solutions. In that time we couldn't make much more than a laundry list, and who knows where it goes now.

The rallies are powerful, spirit-raising, lotsa people look up from their Starbucks table and snap pictures on their cellphones. They're brought alive by creative clowns, clever signs, drumming on oil drums, people who douse their bodies in fake oil, dancing on top of bus shelters, and once again powerful speakers. BUT, the media passes us off as fringe radicals who are blocking traffic, and certainly no deep messages can be conveyed in that format, just a general outrage and lack of support for government policies and status quo.

Last night's Peoples Summit for Climate Justice was the first true opportunity to share and develop ideas and plans. Rather than preach to the 150 people crowded into the hall at 7pm, the organizers simply put up a leading question - "How are justice and climate change related in your community" - and let us form into groups and start talking. Halfway through each group reported back, key themes were picked out, then groups formed around each theme to discuss/plan in greater depth.

I chose to work on the idea of a national referendum on climate change. In a short time we looked at the goals, various existing models of how to run it, logistical considerations, the first steps needed to make it happen, and who was willing to commit to moving it to the next stage. Other groups made similar progress in areas of energy reduction, tar sands, political partnerships, government accountability, etc. Something may actually happen because of the 3 hours that this motivated, committed group spent together.

Last night's Assembly was based on, and built upon, the innovative work done in April at Cochabamba - the gathering organized by Bolivia in the wake of the failed Copenhagen political fiasco. At Cochabamba, 30,000 people from civil society and indigenous groups from around the world gathered in this collaborative format to work together and produce inspiring, original and do-able proposals and statements. All being ignored, of course, by the G8 leaders, but things that citizen groups like ours can follow up on. The basic belief is that governments are failing us, so we have to work together to create the world we want our children to inherit.

Put all together, this week in Toronto has many of the elements needed to make a difference. Panel presentations to educate. Rallies to inspire, bring together, and gain a spotlight. Discussion groups to generate new ideas and advance plans. It's still too early for most of our government leaders to listen to the people they represent, but the stronger we become, the more power we will have to create change either with or in spite of them.

Jun 23, 2010


Through all the hard lessons of the Gender Justice and Peoples Summits so far, there have been strong messages of hope. Southern partners creating impact and positive change through grassroots activism and advocacy. People living in seemingly the most helpless situations showing the most hope and strength.

"Sixteen women die every day in Malawi (in childbirth and unsafe abortions). Sixteen are dying today. Sixteen more will die tomorrow. Sixteen the day after that," explained Dorothy Ngoma, one of the powerful "W8" women speaking for women around the world. "But don't give up hope, don't stop what you are doing. You never know how many lives you are saving."

Despite the consistent message that abuse of patriarchal power, both at leadership and individual levels, is one of the root causes of the suffering and injustice, there was thankfully not a blanket demonizing of my un-fair sex. A speaker from Ethiopia (above, right) observed that "Men and women always rely on each other. Men and women always are concerned for each other. That's an opportunity we can build upon."

This same Ethiopian woman - "Bogy" - even found a thin, provocative silver lining in the HIV-AIDS epidemic. "HIV has been an entry point for women to talk. Whereas before women were muted, without a voice, HIV is a common concern for men and women, for old and young, so it has given women a chance to speak for themselves and start a dialogue with men."

If Harper could have just opened his ears, let alone his heart, to these powerful, courageous women, he would see the arrogance and ineffectiveness of his policy to only fund direct services instead of empowerment and capacity building of these local organizations to change their own society. "The reduction of Female Genital Mutilation and the increased acceptance of pre-marital HIV testing hasn't come about by changes in the law," explained Bogy. "They're the result of a change in culture that has happened because of people's understanding."

Dorothy Ngoma summed it up, "We don't want charity. We want solidarity. We want dignity."

Jun 22, 2010

Fascist Canada

Harper's government isn't just cutting valuable services abroad and locally. It's also systematically muzzling the voice of dissent and constructive civil debate in Canada.

As outlined in a Globe and Mail article, non-profit organizations who dare to speak against government policy are losing their funding. It's happening in the women's movement, in international development, in many progressive organizations. Planned Parenthood, KAIROS, Match International, and most recently the Canadian Council for International Cooperation are just some of the organizations who have lost their funding for daring to suggest that the minority government might not always be getting it right.

At the most certain risk of further funding cuts, several organizations have come together to expose and protest this erosion of our precious freedom of expression and full participation in democracy. Please take the time to read, sign and circulate the document at their new website: www.voices-voix.ca

In partial answer to the Why am I at the G8 question, I'm here to learn more about these serious issues threatening our society, but also to regain some hope that together we can do something about it. Do I believe that harper will listen? Of course not. But I do believe that enough of us together can finally wake up the rest of Canadians to stop electing him. The US finally got rid of Bush - why do we still have him up here?

Jun 21, 2010

what price morals, eh?

Stephen Harper wants to kill women. At least, that's what he'll accomplish if he succeeds in forbidding Canadian aid money to make abortions safe for women in developing countries.

For reasons unknown - likely pure ignorance, certainly not true love or respect - the head of our minority government put women's health and child mortality on the table at the G8, offering up a billion dollars of matching funds. Stephen really cares, right?

Then he turned around and declared contraception to be off limits. Apparently he's unaware of the high number of unwanted pregnancies that women experience due to rape, lack of economic or social power to say no to a husband, deep-rooted disempowerment and inequality. Apparently he doesn't keep up on statistics of 10-year-old mothers (yes, ten - see the stats in this photo of number of adolescent pregnancies in one year in Guatemala); girls who never get the chance for an education or a life of their choosing. Or if he does know it, he doesn't see giving these girls and women control over reproduction as a fair response.

Then he imposes his moral standard that all these young girls and adolescents, these women who can't support a first or another child, must have that unwanted baby. By refusing to allow safe abortion, he condemns them to illegal, unsanitary abortions that have been outlawed in our own society. In Africa, 40% of women who die during pregancy and childbirth die because of an illegal abortion. That number is 13% worldwide.

Outlawing abortions has never made it go away, it just drives it underground. And women and their babies die. Four out every 10 of those African women and their babies die.

Quite simply, if mr. harper really cares about women and wants to keep them alive, he will allow us to continue our work - which has been proven to reduce maternal mortality - of helping women choose when to become pregnant, and ensuring that those who choose to end an unwanted pregnancy can do so safely.

This is just one of many messages that we are here in Toronto trying to pass along to the leaders who will come nowhere near us. Harper is imposing his personal beliefs - beliefs not shared by the majority of Canadians whom he is supposed to represent - and the girls and women of the world will continue to pay the price. The same girls and women whom he is pretending to champion.

Jun 17, 2010

The Accidental Purist

Not all who inspire are inspired.

It's 6:26am and I'm on the dirty carpet of the Detroit Greyhound station, halfway through a 12-hour trek to Chicago to attend the G8. To attend the Gender Justice Summit, the Peoples' Summit, the protests, and all the other meaningful citizens events that the governments of the most powerful 8 nations of the world largely ignore as they make their decisions on our behalf about how to rule the world.

I'm here because it's my last function of my 3-year tenure on the Oxfam Canada board. I'm here because it's a great chance to have a few weeks to myself, to visit my brother, to get some solid consulting work done, to let my boys have time with their Chicago grandparents and uncles, and to unwind after a school year of high energy parenting. And oh ya, I'm here as a deliberate act of world citizenship.

The fact that I'm spending 92 hours in transit (plane, train, automobile, bus, ferry) and 2 weeks away from the farm to be here is not indicative of any heroic efforts or passionate commitment. It all happened by accident, by the fact that Oxfam scheduled this meeting at this time. I wasn't an on-fire protester who determined to get here to save the world or protest its demise.

But in a recent Quaker discussion group about how we try to live our lives in accordance with testimonies around Peace and Equality, a wise Friend asked me about my G8 involvement. His assumption that I was acting out of a deep calling or "Leading" was a wake-up call that this should be more than a casual adventure. It is a gift-wrapped chance to put my faith into action.

From that simple, pivotal moment, I've become excited about the G8. I'm no longer here to catch up on my writing and sleep and fraternal bonds; I'm here to be a presence. I'm representing my Quaker Friends, my community of friends who believe as I do that the world leaders can and must do better. I'm here for social justice, for environmental justice, for gender justice, for a better world for our children. I'm here because being here makes a difference.

I don't yet know what that will look like, beyond participation in the amazing discussion fora that Oxfam and other groups are staging. Is this finally my time to go to jail for justice? To write that powerful media piece that changes some minds? To march in some historic ground-shifting protest that captures the world's attention? Or maybe it's just to be here and learn, to share my little perspective and energy.

It's exciting to be this open, to have 10 full days devoted to nothing but being present and ready to respond, contribute and learn. This is just one of many gatherings in a time of many gatherings, and I don't fool myself that my little piece will make a big difference in this one little act of the grand play. But my full, intentional plunging into this river is a baptism of sorts, a new depth of self-awareness and involvement.

So thank you, wise Friend, for the gentle nudge you probably didn't know you were giving. Or probably you did. I have a lot to learn, and a big supportive space to learn it in.

Jun 11, 2010

So ready for summer

This is not a complaint about the weather. Nor about school. I'm just ready for summer break.

Ready to not hustle through the morning routine of bath-food-lunch-boots-bikes. Not hear myself saying, "Come on guys, time to move or we'll be late." Ready to just not be late for anything. The lettuce never requires a late slip.

Ready to have the boys around more. Late nights in the garden not worrying about being too tired for school in the morning. Getting some good work done then rewarding ourselves with a jaunt down to the river. Finally building that tree fort, that swing, that bike jump.

This will be a summer of balance, of relaxation, of quiet time with family interspersed with friends gatherings and outings. We've got it beautifully blocked out:
- 2 weeks in chicago with their grandparents and uncles while i'm at the G8
- 2 weeks home
- 1 week of just me and sarah on the farm while the kids are at "Camp Grandma Dia"
- 1 week with dear friends visiting, probably with a quick camp-out on the west coast
- 2 weeks home
- 1 week back-country camping at Cathedral Lakes
- 3 weeks home

And by then, I'll be writing another blog post saying how ready I am for school, for blocks of kid-free time each day, for routine and daily parking-lot communion. But for now, it's no more pencils no more books, bring on the Meatballs video. This stay-at-home dad is ready to stay at home.