Sunday, August 15, 2010

How to be Alone

I recently watched a delightful new Youtube video, How to be Alone. I got it on Facebook, then shared it with and sent it to a bunch of friends, acquaintances and a couple nieces. We all found something so real, encouraging and relevant about it.

The today I received a link to a Globe and Mail article that slammed this vid. It is clear that Russell Smith, quite literally, does not get being alone.

Goodness, where does one begin? I may be a bit breathless, so bear with me. Smith finds Dorfman's and Davis' piece anti-feminist. Perhaps that's because he erroneously interprets it as "a melancholy monologue about being single." And perhaps that is because he assumes when a woman is exploring being alone that equals being without a partner (man?). Perhaps he cannot imagine anything with any kind of emotional content put out by a woman as either, a) generalizable, or b) not "weepiness." Maybe what he thinks he is critiquing he himself is actually reproducing: he has found thousands of women identifying with this piece incomprehensible and the text "bizarre" yet he proceeds to give us all a tongue lashing on what is wrong with it and us. Has feminism not at least taught him some better gender manners?

On that, as one comment at the bottom of his article noted, it is curious he's made this about feminism. He says, " Women all over the world seem enthralled by it" and that there have been "652,000 views." I don't know how he knows they are all women. I have found it to resonate with people of various genders. And if he's going to make it about feminism, geez, it'd be nice if he did a little research to find out exactly what it is. He makes somewhat arcane references to the 60s and "the sexual revolution" as the source of a liberation that he seems to think has been achieved for us. Women as a group (not racialized, without class location) who now apparently are so distracted by science, politics and the market that we have no time for weaknesses such as feelings. And I say arcane because it is 2nd and 3rd wave feminism that would be a much more relevant knowledge base from which to making such an "anti-feminist" argument.

The point he spectacularly misses is that this video is about being instead of doing. In a doing- and "FOMO"-obsessed society this is a message to value indeed. How many of those out-and-about women he applauds are ever without their iPhone or Blackberry at the gym and restaurant? How many people altogether really unplug, disconnect and just get with ourselves to see what our internal life is like, might be like, without all that eternal, external input coming at us? And how many of us wouldn't know where to begin if we tried? [I wonder what the stats are on the increase of 'mindfulness meditation' workshops in the last decade? I know it's all the rage. Hmm, why would that be?] Getting alone to just be certainly requires access to time and economics for a number of people; generally though, it is fundamentally about the way society in our time and place happens.

An aversion to solitude is not a "constitutional" problem of women, I agree. Rather, an aversion to just being is a social problem for people as a whole. And, really, it is too bad that some of us are disappointing him so much, with all that "backsliding everywhere around" him. But he would do well to explore that as a general societal question, to reflect on why all those "educated women" are writing Bridget Jones-type books. Are those multiple, individual, simpering anti-feminist failures or is there something more going on?

Shut off the cell Russ, close that lid on the laptop and go for a long slow walk. "Be" that a few times, reflect and bit, and it all may seem a little less bizarre.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Would they have us throw wildflowers at the banks?

I've been thinking lately about my arrests a couple decades ago and how that (and a bunch of years of activism) lead to how I prepared for the G20. Well, that and other things too.

Before June 24 I had no illusions about police and protest arrests. Verbal abuse, derision, the mind-fuck of processing delays, never getting near a phone, unnecessary strip searches, shitty food and too little of it, and crowded conditions in detainment have been standard activist arrest experience for some time. And my experiences did not feature all of these things. But this G20 scene was a whole other order of abuse. In the hyper-security, anti-terrorist age there's a whole new level and ferocity of inhumanity for active dissenters, which is continuing to be eloquently and well-documented elsewhere. What we saw/experienced a couple weeks ago makes me terrified for people over-policed and -imprisoned 52 weeks of the year.

I've also been thinking about the issue of tactics and violence. This is especially because I became a militant in the mid/late 80s when, while I was still quite politically green, I came across the "Alliance for Non-Violent Action." ANVA was a group dedicated to a combined political/strategic/tactical non-violent orientation to social change. In this group, as often is the case when these layers get so implicitly intertwined, the belief system and activities were profoundly morally driven. All group conversation was oriented to or simply reflected the selflessness of that approach to struggle and practice. Leaders were revered for the number of times they'd been arrested, the extreme personal sacrifices they'd made, and for the full degree to which their lives were organized around the next action. These include actions like the ones I was involved in: ARMX '89 (bi-annual international weapons fairs), a women's day protest at Litton (weapons' manufacturer) and an anti-apartheid protest at the South African embassy in Ottawa.

And in that morally-driven conflation of philosophy, political vision, strategy and tactics was lost the possibility for both independent thinking and self-expression, as well as a collective critical assessment of real, existing social conditions and what the nature of the possibilities were for change within them. What did we understand about what was going on in the world in relation to the actions? Was what we were doing working? To what degree? Were we building something, getting more people involved? Was this the right moment for this or that action? Why were only non-violent methods okay when history has shown us that others are most often needed? No disrespect to the leader-activists who did indeed sacrifice enormously for that project but these were not askable questions. The space was just not there for it.

I've thought of this around the G20 protests, during and after that weekend, when some people wanted us all to sit down (the most annoying being Sid Ryan president of the Ontario Federation of Labour on July 10, as he stood in the bed of a pick-up truck!). While for me the sit-down now feels like submission and can also be dangerous, others use it to show their peacefulness, to demonstrate we are bringing the volume down on our rage, that we will - by being good and gentle people - model for you cops and ruling class how to be so too. No way was I sitting down. And good thing too because it seems many protesters who did were in a much more vulnerable position when the time came for the cop beating and arresting on June 25/26 that they were determined to make happen.

And as I keep hearing everyone from Harper and his cronies to labour officials in Toronto and beyond using the phrase "violent vandals", I imagine a non-violent vandalism. Masked youth throwing wildflowers at the TD bank, others grinding lavender into the locks of Starbucks' doors. Wow, that'd be an effective way to turn a march-to-nowhere around, to let the elites know you are done with them, to let out your rage. Nose pressed to the glass, saying softly to an American Apparel mannequin "don't hurt me, I'm not hurting you" (a non-violent mantra to the cops some 20 years ago).

The point I am arriving at here is that we - those who would seek some serious social transformation - would do better not to advocate for or condemn any particular tactic in and of itself nor exalt one method over another. And we'd also do better not to create any more exclusive morally-driven projects on this basis either. No matter how much we like and respect the people in them. Instead we need a lot of us to be really working together (even if sometimes separately), across political differences and those in social location and experience. Which probably sounds eye-rollingly trite at this point, given the fact that many of us want this but are collectively not "making" it happen.

We live in very complex times and yet we seem to want to make our programs and activities to be so simple, in terms of what they all ought to add up to. I am not discarding the thought, writing, and organizing of a lot of dedicated people. And I recognize many people are doing that with an urgent present level of need which I do not have and live with. This is not a blanket condemnation of current struggles. I am though trying to point out that there is a yawning gap between all that sophisticated hard work and what we are achieving, and that we're generally not discussing this. As I say, I know the urgency is real, for many of us quite literally more than for others. But without some hard, ongoing conversations on the left about how the general balance of forces (the power elites have and are able to use in relation to ours) are so out of our favour, and why this continues to be increasingly so, I cannot see how we can find a way forward. Hard work, dedication and good politics does not seem to be enough.

I know a lot of people will not be happy with me should they read this. Again, no disrespect. I locate myself in this problem too. And I don't pretend to have anything figured out. I just need to talk this reality and sure am hoping more and more other people do too.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

July 1, 2010 G20 rally

I just got back from the Queen's Park "Inquiry into G20" rally. I guess there were 500+ people there. I didn't stay for the march so I can only comment what happened in the take-back-the-park piece. Tommy Taylor, sort-of-average guy arrestee proposed to his girl which was fun. Here's what he is about:

The militancy volume dial was definitely turned down from a couple days ago and there was a real Canadiana vibe to it all. I don't think it's just the day. The MC who was clearly in the trenches on G20 weekend (bruised arms) kept emphasizing rights violations of peaceful protesters. And despite Sharmeen Khan's (Toronto Community Mobilization Network organizer) great speech that located us on Indigenous land, that being terrorized by the cops & prison system is everyday life for a lot of racialized migrants, and focused on the injustice of dozens of people still being detained, not as much of the crowd got into chanting "free free the detainees" with her at the end as we did earlier this week.

There was lots of tapping into the "Canadian values" business to justify decrying civil liberties and human rights violations. And given the national imaginary - that absurdly endures - of the safe, polite and peace-loving nation, tapping into Canadiana sends us down a slippery slope. The ideology of politeness has a palpable nexus with that of private property here in post-G20 Toronto.

We're seeing some unions & unions federations that have realized they've got to get behind an inquiry because even people who went out to go shopping at the Queen West Lululemon on Sunday ended up in freezing cold overcrowded paddy wagons for the afternoon and evening with their hands in twist ties instead. Take the Toronto & York Region Labour Council (TYRLC) for example and how their position changed from the weekend to today. Actually, you can't see what they first said because they seem to have taken it off their site: But it wasn't good. it was kind of link the abhorring and condemning message on the Canadian Labour Congress site:

So, John Cartwright TYRLC president spoke today, mobilizing multiracial working class history in Toronto to buttress his support for an inquiry. Which is fine - he's very good at that - but it also seemed to help smuggle in three key points to a largely cheering audience: that the inquiry must look at the unjustified use of police force (i.e. unions are ok with cops going at some of the people, some of the time?), all the sources of violence/vandalism (read, get those hooligans?) and also why the police didn't intervene on the property destruction (I yelled out "cos they were having too much fun participating in it").

We've got to get back to where we were this past Monday night at the cop shop protest. Do we have to have riot cops beating their shields, marching on us, beating us, then standing on every street corner, to actively undermine that not being polite and not protecting corporate property is not the greatest violence in our lives? I hope not. Let's make sure that $1.2 billion dollars was not completely wasted wasted. Let's make sure that along with Starbucks, Scotiabank and Nike windows some illusions got smashed - like ones about how fundamental social change happens slowly, if we're patient and we wait nicely for our chance to speak out.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

More of a crazy notion than a ‘Crazy Heart’*

This seems an odd and sudden way to re-start a blog. And I will admit up front that this is more of a movie rant than a movie review. But I feel so compelled. Maybe Harper and company’s escalating anti-women attacks had me already revved up when I saw ‘Crazy Horse’ last night, which the box it came in reported as Jeff Bridges’ best yet. I woke up this morning with a hangover. Never mind that supposed-southerner Colin Farrell as 'Tom' has zero idea how to lip sync or that, as usual, his Irish accent keeps creeping in. What had me yammering at my sleepy guy this a.m. was that the core of what carries the film is a preposterous premise: young 30something Jeanie (Maggie Gyllenhaal… ) gets all hot for - sorry no, falls quickly in looove with – a whiskey-chugging, chain-smoking, frequently vomiting, almost 60 something ‘Bad’ guy (seriously, his stage name in the film).

All kinds of people can find all other kinds of other people fascinating and sexy. I am into that and I think it’s awesome. But a little bit of plot development to justify Jean’s dubious swoon would not be too much to ask. Nowhere is found an explanation for why that fanciful character, the hot, single mom in a great job and beautiful home would give, um, Bad a second look… never mind trust her kid with him! And the couple of women closer to his age in the film are portrayed as one-dimensional bar sluts (and not in a good way), bit players ‘til he meets the real deal. I think all this is because the film is an example of an aging-male fantasy, de rigueur these days from Hollywood to real-life online dating.

In our general part of the world, public feminist movements have eroded over the last decade and a bit, and any semblance of real freedom for women has become many of us learning to be superwomen. Meanwhile, many men of my general generation seem to be challenging mortality, fighting the wages of time (by trying to get) on the backs of sisters 15 to 20 years younger than me. Online dating profiles of my male contemporaries are often testaments to this. One almost 50 year-old guy who messaged me when I was on POF last year stated in his blurb a preferred age range as 26 to 33. I sent him a note asking if it was a slow week because I sure didn’t make the age cut….It’s all very annoying, like more and more things these days.