Stamp out homophobia with the Cannabis movement!

For those of you who don’t know, Peter Reynolds is the leader of CLEAR (Cannabis Law Reform), a single issue political party which seeks the legalisation of cannabis. I’ve always been wary of single issue parties, because someone may be good on a single issue but be awful on the rest. Peter Reynolds is such a man. Recently a blog post from him blaming the size zero phenomena on the “gay culture which infects [the] … fashion industry” from 2 years ago has been doing the rounds and causing a bit of controversy is something I find incredibly problematic on a number of levels.

Tagged with “perverted”, his blog-post explains how:

The uncomfortable truth is that all these designers are either homosexual or entirely submerged in the “gay” culture that infects their industry.  They aren’t interested in designing for beautiful women.  They want pretty boys.

The vast majority of us have a healthy interest in beautiful women in beautiful clothes.  These trivial but talented individuals are out of step, out of time and out of any more excuses.  They are responsible for too much misery and suffering.  The modern prevalence of anorexia and bulimia is almost entirely down to these brightly coloured, beautifully tailored, perverted fools.

It is time that wiser minds with far better taste prevailed.  Do what you want to do in the privacy of your own homes but leave our young women’s minds alone and turn your talent in a positive direction.”

His original blog post is problematic on a number of levels:

  1. The lack of understanding of gay culture. Gay culture is not homogenous entity wishing for “pretty boys” ( a sentiment which brushes dangerous close to the old “gay men are paedophiles chestnut), but a diverse culture which celebrates a variety of body shapes and sizes. Look up “bears”, if you don’t believe me!
  2. Peter misses the point *entirely*. The size zero phenomena is the more extreme edge of a culture of patriarchy which ensures that womens bodies are objects for men and as such women should strive to attractive for men. What a society sees as a desirable body shape is based on class – the body types of the rich have always been “in vogue”. In the past when food was scarce and rich people didn’t go outside, portly pale bodies were attractive and people used to paint their faces white to chase after that ideal. Nowadays, personal trainers and holidays to exotic realms are symbols of a privileged life and so thin, tanned bodies are attractive.
  3. Alongside the written text, he provides two images, one  of a rather thin fashion model captioned “poor, pitiful girl”, and another Anne Hathaway (I think…?) captioned with “A Real Woman”. Its nice that you can tell us what the standard for “real woman” is Peter, thanks. Its just a shame that Anne Hathway (or whoever it was) is no larger than a Size 4, which is a UK Size 8, and entirely conceivable that she is medically underweight.
  4. Setting a standard of the “real woman” at a Size 8 is part of the problem and can only serve to make the situation worse, considering that the average UK dress size is 14 or 16, depending on where you shop. There are quite a lot of women falling outside your standard of a “real woman”.

Since the original blog post was flagged up as problematic by cannabis activists, Peter has added some text dealing with the criticisms:

“Recently I have been subject to a vicious hate campaign in which this post has been circulated around the internet to support the false allegation that I am homophobic…

I have carefully reviewed every word.I stand by it 100%.  It says very clearly “Do what you want to do in the privacy of your own homes” and that is precisely my position.  I would defend the rights of all consenting adults to whatever sexual activity they want to indulge in with other consenting adults. I can understand that the phrases “culture that infects” and “perverted fools” may upset some but this article was not written to be politically correct.  It was written to be provocative and to highlight the abuse that some gay men in positions of power are inflicting on vulnerable young women.  Homesexuality is a perversion from the norm and gay culture has been allowed virtually to extinguish heterosexual influence in the fashion industry. That anyone should choose to twist and distort my words in support of their vile allegations must say a lot about their motives and integrity.  I believe that their conduct is in fact far worse than that which they falsely accuse me of.  They are liars and dishonest, scheming perpetrators of a hate crime.  They seek to pervert the cause of gay rights for their own selfish ends. The principle instigator behind this abuse is in fact a major cannabis dealer who, though he promotes himself as pro-cannabis, actually seeks to sabotage the increasing success of my efforts as leader of Cannabis Law Reform (CLEAR).  His income depends on cannabis remaining prohibited and his record shows that over many years he has been responsible for fermenting conflict and division in the cannabis campaign..”

This response is also problematic, for a number of reasons.

  1. Your original post is deeply homophobic, regardless of whether you support the “right to do what you want in the privacy of your own homes”. The fact that you seem to be making an (misplaced) attack on gay people which seeks to remove access to public life is homophobic.
  2. You talk about “heterosexual influence” on the fashion industry as something that is preferable than “gay influence”, which is homophobic. Regardless, your original analysis of the “influences” at play is incorrect.
  3. You seek to appropriate the term “hate crime”, a term used traditionally as a way to reference crimes based on prejudice (i.e. racially motivated, homophobic, etc.) as a tool to attack your critics with. It is not a “hate crime” to oppose homophobia. Nor is it a “hate crime” to attack a political opponent for reasons not relating to their membership of a minority group. Homophobia, however, is a hate crime, and one I would wager you stand guilty of.

A note: frankly, I couldn’t care less about the wranglings for political power within CLEAR. I don’t know the so-called “major cannabis dealer” who is apparently leading the “vicious hate campaign” against Peter, and I don’t really care to. I do care about homophobia, however, and since drug prohibition disproportionately effects LGBT people, I think the people who are leaders within our movement shouldn’t be homophobes.

My beef with Children In Need

OK. So I dont deny that charities fund some good things. However, I am critical of charities, especially charities such as Children in Need for a number of reasons:

1. People living in this country (and others countries) are not having their needs met so they can fully access society and meaningfully participate within it. In a pre-revolutionary society, the good things that CiN fund should be funded by the government, by raising taxes from the rich, and not be funded by the spare change and hard work of working class people who are already fucked over.

2. CiN give a platform for self-serving celebrities who are sitting on vast amounts of wealth the opportunity to extract money out of significantly less wealthy people watching them on tv. Of particular annoyance this year is the platform given to Gary Barlow, who a few months ago was telling everyone to vote for the tories, the party forcing disabled people into workfare schemes and making cuts to healthcare and welfare and now is asking working people to spare a little change to make up the difference now budgets are being slashed.

3. The charity model of disability is deeply flawed on a number of ways, not least in that it sets disabled people up to be pitied by non-disabled people, as victims of their impairments. The reality is that whilst impairments can be difficult to live with, what really stops people from accessing society is the barriers that society puts up; attutudinal, environmental and institutional. Is a person who cannot walk disabled if society is geared up to meet that persons access needs in a holistic manner? This is the basis of the social model of disability.

4. Lack of Agency – most charities taking on issues around disability are ran by non-disabled people. There is no agency here. The model of disabilty that pretty much everyone in the disabled movement advocate for is the social/rights based model, one which seeks barriers to access to be removed and disability to be seen as an issue of meeting peoples basic human rights and treating people with dignity. An organisation ran by disabled people themselves would be a much better to support. Imagine an anti-racism campaign ran by white people which promoted pitying people of colour and didnt give people of colour a decent role in the strategic direction of the organisation. Same deal.

5. The charity model promotes “disabled issues” as things that most people engage with by giving money once a year, instead of engaging with all year round to fundamentally change the attitudinal, environmental and institutional barriers that disabled people face. None-disabled people are then free to not engage with issues at other times of the year, or just sent money and not change their attitudes.

6. CiN actually waste fuck tonnes of money – its really not an efficient way of giving money.

7. Many charities actually fund institutions which directly harm disabled people, either through mistreatment or by taking decision power away from disabled people. The charity model largely sees disabled people as victims who should be “looked after” in “special institutions” which separate them from the rest of society, often without actually asking the disabled person how they want to live their lives.

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Mark Bergfeld, the NUS and the “united left slate”

Shiftmag asked me to write a quick response to Mark Bergfeld’s interview about his candidacy for NUS President, the upcoming elections and the student movement as a whole.  My article was originally published here and another perspective here.

After Aaron Porters largely irrelevant reign as NUS President, it’s good that the left are putting up a credible candidate against the faceless Labour bureaucrats who are manoeuvring to succeed him.

As Mark says, the chances of him winning out in his bid for presidency is quite slim; since the 2008 governance review which reduced the delegate entitlements of students unions and the need for cross-campus ballots to elect them, the authority of the national conference has been largely eroded towards greater power for elected officials. Consequently the NUS has increasingly been controlled by Labour party members in its two factions; Labour Students and the ironically-named “Organised Independents”, which jointly dominate local student union politics, with ordinary students and anyone left-of-Labour largely being silenced in the national process.

Mark overplays the role of the SWP in organising the student movement during the protests, as you would expect from a party member, and sidelines the role played by occupations and anti-cuts groups across the country who organise more horizontally. However, the movement is far from leaderless, with traditional left groups like the SWP as well as occupations and anti-cuts groups taking collective leadership at demonstrations and actions, as well as putting in most of the leg-work in terms of organising.

Mark neatly dodges the question about the supposed “united left slate” and its leaving out of the Alliance for Workers Liberty and other groups in its discussions, the most glaring victim of this being AWL’s Jade Baker who, whilst more experienced and probably better suited to the role, was passed over for VP Union Development on the slate in favour of Workers Power candidate Joana Pinto, despite having registered interest in the role a while ago. This prioritisation of factional interests over what might be best for the student movement as a whole, as well as the way in which the slate was hashed out in backroom deals by a handful of leftist groups shows that even leftist interventions into the NUS are usually largely unaccountable to the wider movement.

Whilst the NUS is never going to be a progressive force, it is useful to have leaders in the NUS who pay more than lip-service to the anti-cuts agenda, and use their position and considerable budgets to forward the campaign. For this reason, we should critically support Mark in his bid for presidency.

 

Euthanasia: A real choice?

The debate surrounding euthanasia, much like the debate surrounding abortion, is often characterised by two polarised camps; those for whom sanctity of life is paramount, and those which place the importance on having the freedom of personal choice and bodily autonomy. Unlike abortion, where the ‘pro-choice’ argument is fiercely defended by the women’s rights movement, the ‘pro-choice’ argument over whether it is right to legalise euthanasia for elderly or disabled people is, rather patronisingly, usually made by the medical establishment “on behalf” of disabled people. Disabled people themselves often get little say in the matter.

In order to fully explore the debate around assisted suicide, we must look at the different ways in which society views disability and what the reality of life is like for people who have physical or mental impairments which affect the way they interact with the world. There are two major camps; the more dominant medical model and the less discussed social model as put forward by disability rights activists. The medical model conceptualises disability as intrinsic to the individual and as something to be cured or managed by the use of drugs or other therapy, often accused portraying disabled people as being something to be pitied and helped, rather than as people who happen to have impairments.

The social model put forwards an alternative view encompassing physical, social and environmental factors; that people may have physical or mental impairments, but it is society as a whole which disables the individual by the process of exclusion and neglect. For example, an individual with an impairment which effects their ability to walk would still be able to go about normal daily life if they had a wheelchair and everywhere they wanted to go was wheelchair accessible. They are only ‘disabled’ when their ability to do something is affected, which is usually because society has neglected to cater for their needs.

The social model is largely favoured by the disabled community, as not only does it offers more effective tactics to empower disabled people to access a higher standard of living in real terms, but it moves away from the idea of impairments being something to cure as opposed to something that is simply another aspect of someones life. This is especially relevant for people with hidden impairments, such as Aspergers Syndrome, whose “impairments” could more accurately be described as natural variance in the way people think as opposed to something that could be cured or would even warrant a cure.

Wheelchair-dancing scene from Glee! Disabled people are often ignored in the debate over euthanasia.

Often in the debate over assisted suicide, people with more ‘severe’ impairments, such as permanent neurological pain, who lead difficult lives are used to justify the pro-choice position. But the medical establishment who use disabled people as posterchildren for the pro-euthanasia cause are not passive observers of the suffering of the elderly or severely disabled people, their involvement in the treatment and care of individuals make them complicit in their suffering in their everyday life. When a person is institutionalised in a nursing home, care home or hospital; the right to choose when to wake up, what to eat, when to eat, what to do and where to go are taken away. When someone is disempowered to such a degree, no matter what their particular impairment, life must ultimately be made harder. It becomes a question of whether the care given by the medical establishment to elderly and disabled people is enough to allow people a life worth living.

Because the medical establishment often fall short of providing truly assisted living, but are often keen to propose assisted suicide, many people with physical impairments see euthanasia and assisted suicide as an attack on their community and actively campaign against it. The call for a state ban, whether it is by religious clergy or from disabled people themselves, lacks empathy for people who genuinely want to die; and often betrays a lack of understanding for long term mental health problems that include suicidal tendencies as part of their diagnosis, or the mental health problems that arise alongside a rapid deterioration of health when someone gets old. It also raises the issue of whether criminalising suicide is a useful tactic for
improving the lives of people who actively want to die.

Disabled people are frustrated with the debate, especially considering that it fundamentally decides whether they live or die and is
dominated by the clergy or medical establishment, who whilst polar-opposites in their position, share an ignorance of disability
issues and an unwillingness to listen to the voices of disabled people. The debate itself represents a false dichotomy; what is seen
as the ‘pro-choice’ position here doesnt give a viable option for disabled people to live lives worth living, and the pro-life side of
the debate hardly improves the lives of those wishing to die by criminalising them. The real ‘pro-choice’ position here is third camp; where disabled people are given assistance where they need it to live decent lives, and, if they require it, assistance to die.

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(Almost) live from Manchester occupation

On Wednesday, after a 6000 strong march through Manchester against the higher education cuts and rise in tuition fees, I was among a group of students who occupied part of the Roscoe building. We got loads of press coverage, my flatmate who has never been particularly involved in activism before got on TV, and we have pretty much been constantly giving radio interviews.

A small group of people who came out to meet the BBC reporter. You can see me if you look closely.

 

The has been minimal disruption to lectures, with many lecturers continuing normal timetabled lectures in the theatre. We figure that while we are using the space to organise against the attacks to our education, we should allow the space to continue to be used as a place of “normal academic learning” as much as possible. On Friday afternoon, when there were no timetabled lectures, we held our own. One in particular was a talk by Japhy Wilson about the crisis of capitalism which was fascinating. I have recorded the talks and discussion as audio files that are available to download below.

A group of students are continuing the occupation over the weekend. I’ve been delegated to go to the national co-ordinating meeting for the Education Activist Network on Sunday, so the best way to find out more about the occupation is to check out http://www.roscoeoccupation.wordpress.com and follow us on twitter at @mancoccupation You can also follow the Education Activist Network at @edactivistnet

Download the following file to hear Japhy Wilson’s talk today: http://www.megaupload.com/?d=TWZHYLTW

Download the following file to hear the open floor meeting: http://www.megaupload.com/?d=97I3RS78

Note that the files might take a few minutes to become available on megaupload. Also note that I’m not really totally sure how reliable megaupload is on a large scale. I’ve only used it to distribute files quickly to mates before. We don’t really have anyone tech-savvy here!

these files are also available on the Roscoe Occupation website. www. roscoeoccupation.wordpress.com

Online GMs? No Thanks!

The University of Manchester Student’s Union is currently holding a referenda on moving general meetings online, this is some gumph I wrote for StudentDirect arguing against the proposals. I had only been given 300 words, so forgive its shortness.

General meetings are far from perfect, but the proposals that the “Yes” side of the online GM debate are putting forward fail to address the real problems with general meetings and may indeed make things a lot worse. They argue that if we shift the debates from Wednesday afternoon and put them online, that we will see and increase in participation due to the students that are currently locked out from attending on Wednesday afternoons, either from being on placement or by playing sports, turning up. The simple fact is that the thousandsof students who are available to attend GMs on Wednesday afternoons aren’t turning up, and this isn’t because the debates aren’t online,but because the politics of the student union are irrelevant and alienating to the average student. Now don’t get me wrong, the fact that the meetings are at a time that stops students with university commitments from attending is terrible, but solvable by moving the debates to the evening where students can have a genuine choice whether to attend meetings or not.

The idea that we will see an increase in meaningful participation in the union by removing the most distinct and recognisable form of democracy from the union itself is frankly absurd, and backed up by the fact that our voter turnout dropped when we moved the elections for sabbatical officers online a few years back.

Democracy is more about ticking “yes” or “no”, but about getting actively involved. The proposals put forward decrease the quality and quantity of the debate; removing the opportunity for a student to stick their hand up in a meeting and spontaneously contribute to the discussion within the meeting itself, and remove many of the democratic processes that are essential to a balanced debate.

Participation in your union is about more than just ticking a box – vote NO to online general meetings and demand a democratic
alternative!

 

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The Browne Review: Where next for the student movement?

The recent publication of the Browne Review will not only have lasting consequences for higher education funding and the wider university landscape, but will have massive repercussions for the student movement.

The review itself was headed up Lord Browne, the former Chief Executive at BP whose savage cost saving cuts and subsequent health and safety corner-cutting there had him accused by some pundits as “the man most responsible for the BP oil spill”. It should come as no surprise to us that his review, which was instigated by the Labour Party, would follow his trend of maximising savings by slashing expenditure. The question remains, will his proposals be as devastating to the student movement as the oil spill was to the Gulf of Mexico?

Within a context of a 25% reduction in education funding, the clear winners in the proposals will be the elite universities who will be able to claw back their funding from the pockets of students paying increased fees. Other winners include part-time students who will finally be allowed to access some reliable form of education funding. The losers in the proposals are the less prestigious universities who can’t afford to put off students with a hike in fees and arts and humanities departments who are likely to be decimated by the proposals. Needless to say, students loose out on these proposals by paying more, but working class and some minority students will be worst affected by grants and scholarships not keeping pace with the increase in fees and living costs and being able to rely on the parental handouts.

the increasing costs of education may lead to students not being able to afford clothes

Whether Lord Browne’s proposals get the nod through Parliament largely depends on the whim of whoever is holding the party whip; but it is clear that the student movement needs to look beyond traditional party politics for it solution. The Liberal Democrats, once the darling of liberal students, are set to betray the movement by voting for an increase in tuition fees on top of their support for a 25% education budget cut. Whilst the Libdems might make a show of a small back-bench rebellion on the issue; it is proof, as if proof were needed, that the Libdems were never the “progressive” party they claimed to be.

With the Labour Party’s ranks swelling with Libdem defectors, and it enjoying a long history of support from the NUS bureaucracy, it seems likely that students will increasingly turn to Labour in search of a saviour. But, as the inventors of the Browne Review, can they really be trusted? It seems that a slash and burn approach to education funding would also be on their agenda if they had managed to make it into power again, and whilst they can (and no doubt will) criticise the ConDems from the relative safety of the opposition benches, they do not represent a viable, progressive alternative for us.

So, where next? With the National Union of Students flagship graduate tax seeming more and more like re-branded tuition fees, the rank and file of the student movement will have to look elsewhere for support in the fight for fair and genuinely free education. How we respond to the current attacks on our education will be key, and its clear from looking at our movements’ history we never got anything without fighting for it.

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