Monday, January 30, 2006

War is Peace. Right is Left.

It's already started! Be on the lookout for the reframing of progressive movements to suit the new right-wing wave. All of the pretty young things on the Hill are soooo post-feminist. Affirmative action is like soooo discriminatory. Caring about social programs is soooo 30 years ago. Yeah right.

I am never sure whether to respond to the most vitriolic anti-queer, anti-feminist stuff that I read in the mainstream press. I figure that the pundits have the media as their pulpit, and all I have is this humble blog. But I also think that we've become so immune to this crap, that it doesn't even get us angry anymore. I mean, how many times in the last few weeks have the newspapers referred to the Reform Party as "grassroots"? The Conservative party was all over the blogging and podcasting during the election, using the tools developed by the alternative media to broadcast a backlash against the very people who pioneered the use of the internet for "grassroots" organizing.

Okay, two things that made my blood boil:

1. In the same issue of Maclean's that printed Barbara Amiel's ode to gay marriage, there was another gem. An article by Marc Steyn titled: The war on terror is the real women's issue. Believe it or not, he argues that North American feminists should stop whining because there is really nothing left for us to fight for. Apparently we've neutered North American males, and should be concentrating our energy on supporting Bush's War on Terror, so we can liberate Muslim women by bombing the shit out of their communities.

I am not kidding.

And just in case you might be inclined to agree with Steyn's assessment, you should read this.

I love it when white men write about feminism.

2. Outrage #2 comes courtesy of my co-worker, who spit up her breakfast this morning, reading the Globe and Mail's profile of Conservative MP James Moore. Apparently Moore's two idols are Martin Luther King Jr. And PRESTON MANNING. And he compares the two men! He sees the Reform Party's opposition to affirmative action as somehow championing the ideals that Dr. King fought for.

To quote dear Meera "Considering that less than 13% of the Conservative Party candidates who ran in the last election were women, Mr. Moore has a lot of nerve to dismiss the NDP quota system as discriminatory. The right-wing notion that compensatory measures such as quotas constitute a form of racial or gender discrimination against the dominant group, is not only misinformed, it is dangerous. By suggesting that all Canadians should be judged by the content of their character alone, Moore implies that it is a flaw in "character" that has prevented women and minorities from gaining access to power."

I predict that there will be a lot more spitting up of breakfast over the morning newspaper in the coming weeks. I should buy a bib.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Songs to get you out of bed -- and onto the picket line

I'm working on a couple of freelance pieces, so I haven't been giving this blog the attention it deserves for the last couple of days... but I am working on a personal project, kind of a la The National Playlist . My coworker Meera and I have taken to dancing around our office cubicle in the morning -- sort of like a cheerleading session for lefties in a new, dangerous frontier. You gotta find something to help you get out of bed in the morning!

So I am looking to compile the ultimate Activist Mix CD. Here are some of my suggestions, feel free to contribute your own:

1) In the Beginning by K'naan . "Throw your hands up if all you want is freedom!"
2) Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole by Martha Wainwright . Brings me back to my high school years of obsessively listening to Untouchable Face by Ani Difranco. Nothing like female rage and appropriate use of expletives.
3) We Don't Stop by Michael Franti . "Bush War One and Bush War Two, we gotta war for me and a war for you."

Okay everyone, your turn now. What cranks you up and makes you want to change the world?

Friday, January 27, 2006

Earth to Planet Left: Harper did win the election

Okay, I know that a few days ago, I advocated hiding under the covers for the next four years. And the idea still seems very tempting. But I wasn't serious. I just can't quite believe how some of my favourite left-wing pundits are spinning the election results. I know, I know, it's not as bad as we had thought it would be. But to characterize this election as a left-wing victory seems like quite a stretch. Rick Salutin's take on things made me howl over the newspaper this morning: "You -- go sit in the corner. You -- you're in charge, but only by default. The rest of you -- act nice."

But this analysis takes the cake. Thanks to Gilles for the link.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Let them talk, I say

So the right-wing pundits in the media are trying to reassure Canadians, telling us that Harper is a libertarian, and that his alliance with the Christian right is a strategic one, designed to gain power. Apparently he isn't a "true believer," even though he is a member of the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church, which follows a literal interpretation of the bible (I wonder if he follows the command not to wear fabrics with mixed fibres, or if he avoids shellfish, or any of the other specific instructions that the bible provides).

Anyway, his personal beliefs aside, he won't be able to muzzle the lunatics for much longer. He ran a careful campaign, where he clearly told Stockwell Day and Cheryl Gallant to shut up. But the fundamentalist groups that backed Harper want to have their seat at the table. And they are just rolling up their sleeves for a long battle ...

Here are some groups to keep an eye on -- this will be the real locus of power driving the Conservative Party's social agenda -- even if they don't publicly admit it:

  • Focus on the Family is the organization led by James Dobson, based in the U.S., with a recently-opened office on Parliament Hill, and another large Canadian office (with over 70 employees), operating out of B.C. Their website might look benign, but Dobson runs a media empire -- his radio shows alone are heard by 200 million listeners in 164 countries. In 2004/05, he repeatedly told his listeners that the gay marriage issue had "turned ugly" in Canada, and asked listeners for to send money to help him fight the incursion on "traditional" families.
  • The Defend Marriage Coalition is a Calgary based-coalition of Canada Family Action Coalition; Real Women of Canada; the Catholic Civil Rights League and Campaign Life Coalition. 'Nuf said. I linked to all of them, because you should read what they are saying -- especially how they've spun Monday's election results.
  • The newly-formed Institute for Canadian Values came together just before the gay marriage vote in Parliament in June. The organization's website refers to the Liberal Party's "radical social agenda." The Institute is headed up by Joseph Ben-Ami, the former communications director at B'nai Brith. And I'd just like to say, that as a Jew, I am revolted that someone that was so closely affiliated with what is supposed to be a Jewish human rights organization would be at the helm of an organization that promotes homophobia and legalized discrimination. Mr Ben-Ami: don't you think the experience of anti-Semitism should make us more accepting of people that may be different from us? Does the term "human rights" only apply to non-gay humans?

They say that a person can be judged by the company he keeps. All of the organizations named above have professed support for Harper, and representatives of these groups ran as Conservative candidates in this federal election.

But Harper's a changed man, right?

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Partisan myopia

Okay, it's not as bad as we all feared it would be. Harper rode a wave of anti-Liberal sentiment to win the election, but he didn't win the majority (or even the significant minority) he had hoped for. The NDP gained 29 seats, and came close to holding the balance of power in Parliament. Chances are, this government won't last long. It's no more stable than the one we just turfed, and Harper won't be able to move without the support of at least one more party.

But it's still not good ... Harper is dangerous. He deliberately hid his fundamentalist candidates during the election, and downplayed his own socially conservative agenda. He stuck to the script, and tried to smile (as creepy as it was). But he won't be able to leash the whackos for long. And he might even give a few of them cabinet positions. Even if some of the attempts to curtail women's and LGBT rights might be facile, the point is, we will have to fight back on the issues that we thought we'd won. It will be hard to make any progress toward new change. And people from within our own communities will start advocating a form of self-censorship, urging us to stick to the "vanilla" issues that don't offend mainstream Canadians. We shouldn't stand for this.

Last night, I attended the victory party for my local NDP candidate. My feet were tired from pounding the icy pavement, knocking on doors to get out the vote. It was rewarding to be among like-minded people, and to celebrate a victory, for once. But more than one NDP party worker sidled up to me, and criticized the organization that I work for, for getting involved in the Think Twice initiative, and speaking too harshly of Stephen Harper. They had the mooney-eyed look that people get when they join cults, and it scared me. They were so focused on winning NDP seats, that they had completely lost sight of who the true enemy is.

I mean, I am no Liberal apologist. But to suggest that civil society should have kept quiet about Harper, just in case that meant that people might vote Liberal, is absolutely ludicrous. Just because the NDP wasn't likely to pick up votes from Conservative voters, doesn't mean that activists should have given him a free ride. You can't focus on "positive alternatives" (as one NDPer lectured me about) unless you explain what people should be turning away from. And as a lesbian woman, I know that my rights will be under threat during Harper's reign.

Sorry, I am not going to shut up about why he's bad for Canada. And I will do everything in my power to stand up for the things that matter: health care, housing, human rights. Now that the NDP has gained more of a foothold, I hope they will do the same. But allowing Harper to go unchallenged is not the way to do it.

Monday, January 23, 2006

T-minus 14 hours till Armageddon

Okay everyone, today is D-Day. Suck it up and prepare for the onslaught. Please remember to vote. Get a good night's sleep. And plan your next demonstration. I mean, the advantage of a Conservative government, is that there will be no shortage of things to protest against -- take your pick. Abortion, child care, equal marriage, health care, peace, immigration and refugees, censorship, security policies. Join us under the tent -- there's room for everyone. At least with the election over, we can stop feeling like we should be pouring our energy into the partisan playing field ...

I'll spend this week directing you to the excellent organizations that are fighting an uphill battle on the issues mentioned above. But in the meantime, I will start compiling my list of reasons to wake up tomorrow morning. It will be a difficult task.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Don't make Michael Moore cry!

The poor guy will have no country to escape to after Jan. 23rd ...

He actually said this shit

Those of you that don't subscribe to the Globe and Mail might have missed this.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Unlikely bed fellows

In the dying days of the federal election, a broad-based coalition of labour, environmental, social justice and women's groups have banned together to warn of the dangers of a Harper government -- especially if he manages to win a majority. I will openly admit that two of the organizations that I am involved with are a part of this coalition. But I am not defending the Think Twice initiative because of my organizational affiliations. I bring up the issue because I think the mainstream press has been unilaterally unfair and inaccurate in its representation of the coalition's message. And because I think it points to the genuine challenges of forging partnerships, and working in solidarity with each other. You don't always get to control the message. And it forces you to work with unlikely bed fellows. But I believe that this is the only way we are going to be able to truly resist the Harper revolution.

There's a tendency in the activist movement to want to make sure that every sentence we utter is utterly and totally inclusive of every person in every constituency. This comes from our genuine desire to recognize different people's experiences of oppression, and make sure that our activist movement is accessible to anyone who wants to participate. But sometimes I wonder if this actually makes it more difficult for those who don't know "the code" to join in. And I also wonder if it sometimes prevents us from finding the common ground from which we can all work -- principles that we can agree on, while allowing individual organizations to focus on what they do best.

When I was the editor of the student newspaper in university, we used to have these long meetings where we decided which corporations we would boycott from advertising with us (like Monsanto would ever have advertised in a leftie student rag). The activist movement on campus spent a lot of time deciding which university administrators were racist, and which were not. At the end of the day, the consensus seemed to be that they were all instruments of oppression and needed to be overthrown. Oh, those were the days ...

I bring this up, because I think about the different organizations I am in contact with, through both my paid and volunteer work. Many of them are Think Twicers. But they are certainly different. For example, there are some incredible Catholic organizations doing kick-ass popular education work on fair trade and the right to water. But of course, they don't support equal marriage for same sex couples. At least officially, anyway ... What I've learned is that there are so many progressive people within those organizations that are trying to use the Church's resources to do good. And not just in a charitable sense. They are hard core activists challenging political and economic structures. They just happen to be funded by the Old School Homophobe Society ...

So, my question is: should we work with organizations on issues of common interest (health care, housing, fighting poverty, etc.) to challenge the Conservative juggernaught? Or should we remain in our corners, fighting an uphill battle alone? Should we try to find the intersections of unity among us, and leave our differences aside? Or does it corrupt our message and our core values to work with organizations that fundamentally oppose our quest for equality and justice?

I'm not so sure. But that's why coalition-building is hard. It forces us to examine our own biases, to accept that someone always ends up hogging the spotlight, and to work with people that we wouldn't work with under different circumstances. But that's the point.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Some good news and scary news

The right-wing swing might be well underway in North America, but we can look to the global south for some inspiration. Here is some exciting news from Bolivia.

And, a dire warning from our friends in the international LGBT rights movement.

I have no solidarity with Buzz

I will start this off by explaining that I am a union sister -- a member of CAW local 567, no less. And I'm a Shop Steward. I believe that unions are essential organizations that improve people's lives by making their working conditions more bearable. They have also been one of the driving forces behind most of the progressive legislation ever enacted in Canada.

That being said, I am furious at Buzz Hargrove. This blog didn't exist when he pledged his support for Paul Martin the first time. You'd think he would have heeded the credible critics from within his own community. And he didn't have to give Paul the fucking leather jacket. It's making my gag reflex act up again ... And this week, he was on television again, actually campaigning with Martin, and then proceeding to stuff his foot way down his throat by making contradictory and inappropriate comments about Canadian unity. The press is referring to Buzz as "one of Paul Martin's most high profile supporters." It would have been nice if he had thought about maybe asking CAW members what they thought of his newfound love for the Liberals.

If he had, many of us would have reminded him that Martin was resposible for the single, most devastating action to affect Canadian social programs: the massive reduction to the Canadian Health and Social Transfer in 1995. He set in motion a horrible cycle of cutbacks and provincial-municipal downloading that led directly to the crisis in our health care system that the Supreme Court recently ruled on. Martin's government also gutted Canada's Employment Insurance program (changing its name from Unemployment Insurance, in a bizarre case of Orwellian doublespeak), leading to huge budget surpluses --which the Liberals turned into tax cuts, largely for corporations.

And where do the rights of the worker figure into this?

Now, I know that the alternative to the Liberals is much, much worse. But Buzz has no business endorsing Martin -- it undercuts the CAW's credibility as a voice for working people, and frankly confirms a lot of people's notions about the union movement being an "old boys' club."

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Taxes are good for you. Polls are not.

I just got my pay stub for this week. It always seems like an absurd amount of money gets deducted from each cheque. Until I think about the alternative: medical bankruptcy. Read this if you still think taxes are too high.

And here is a good explanation of why polls are bad for your health.

We don't need this Barbara's endorsement

Okay boys, I know how much you love women named Barbara (albeit with a different spelling). But please don't take Barbara Amiel's latest endorsement as a compliment. Think of it as the worst kind of cultural appropriation.

In a recent rant in Ken Whyte's new propaganda rag (formerly known as Maclean's), she gushes over Elton John's recent wedding, and whines because she wasn't invited. And then in the classic example of the backhanded compliment, she declares her support for same sex marriage, after stating that "the gay community does have the capacity for some pretty heavy philandering before settling down to the level of fidelity necessary to maintain a marriage." She ends her diatribe with a bow to us activists: "they've had to organize for their rights, and if we're very lucky, now they'll organize for ours."

I wonder what precisely she means by "ours." Does she mean disgraced billionaires accused of defrauding millions of dollars from publicly-traded companies, while frolicking in Bora Bora? Or right wing lunatics with free access to the media? Or people who have never gone hungry in their lives and think nothing of announcing that Canada should reinstate debtors' prisons?

Here are some choice quotes for from the lady herself -- and thanks to Maude Barlow for compiling all of them in The Big Black Book:

"While few judges or prosecutors would be afraid to exercise their perfectly legitimate discretion in favour of an ordinary man, not to mention a minority group member, most would be terrified to exercise the same discretion for someone politically, financially or socially powerful."

"If Africa is to come out of the Dark Ages, it will have to transplant some of the fundamental institutions of the West which do not root easily, especially among illiterate nomads."

"Canada's public communication industries lost their way some time ago ... much of public broadcasting was captured by silly politically-correct special interest groups ..."

Hmmm ... I don't suppose she meant feminists and queer activists? It's funny how when she's feeling oppressed, she suddenly believes in collective action.

Sorry Babs, it's too little too late. Sorry that Elton didn't invite you to the wedding.

Monday, January 16, 2006

The difference between a tax cut and a social program

Has anyone else noticed that every party (including the NDP) is talking about tax cuts non-stop? Whatever came to the core economic justice principle that a social program is always better than $50 spread over an entire year? And what about universality? I feel like I'm somehow passe for even mentioning the issue ... The rhetoric has become about which tax cut will benefit the poor. But poor people don't pay income taxes! And even though the Conservatives like to quote the National Anti-Poverty Organization's assertion that a GST cut is the only tax cut that could remotely apply to poor people, the proposed Conservative GST cut would amount to roughly $100 over the course of a year for a person who earns $15,000 a year.

This blog might turn into a compendium of all the great things that other people are saying, but Jim Stanford's on the money with this issue.

Please, NDP, I beg you ... when you are out of election mode, can we go back to debunking the myth of tax cuts? Please?

Election polls make me sick

I have been fighting this nasty cold all week, and I am convinced that the election polls are to blame. Psychosomatic congestion. I blame the Conservatives ....

My favourite promise from this week is that their so-called day care tax credit will be available to all families, including us queers. How charitable of him. AS IF HE'S ALLOWED TO DISCRIMINATE AGAINST OUR FAMILIES ANYMORE. Like he would have legal leg to stand on if he tried to deny a tax credit to children of LGBT parents ... And last night on CBC, the oh-so-poised Conservative strategist told one of the election speed-daters that Harper's promise to hold a free vote on same sex marriage is just an example of him keeping his word ... and it won't affect anyone's legal rights, anyway. It's just about restoring the "traditional" definition of the word "marriage." Just a word, no rights being threatened ...

I wish we could lull ourselves to sleep with the mistaken notion that Harper is harmless. A dove, really. A libertarian who is simply answering the demands of his constituents. But we all know that he is throwing a strategic bone to his fundamentalist base. The good born-again Christian folks who would like to see us all cast out of our families and sent to anti-gay "re-education camps" (a la But I’m a Cheerleader ). A whole bunch of new fundamentalist groups set up shop on Parliament Hill for the same sex marriage debate, and they aren't going away. And their explicit goal is to roll back all of the protections we've won in the last 20 years. I'm not overstating the case. They know that they have to start incrementally, but they are tooling up for a long fight.

Do you think it's a coincidence that Harper has been ending his speeches with "God Bless Canada"?

Just wait till the free vote on abortion ... It'll be a big party ... can't wait ... oh I feel the migraine coming on ....

Friday, January 13, 2006

That nauseous feeling that (bad) change is afoot

So I blame the Liberals for this mess. I really do. I can't say a single thing to defend them. The way Paul Martin is wrapping himself in the flag in the remaining days of the campaign, holding himself up as the torch-bearer for human rights, is truly revolting. Suddenly queer people matter when his ass is on the line. And the way he says he's fighting the Americanization of Canada makes me want to barf. Like he didn't sign the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America, paving the way to the wholesale integration of Canada's health care system, natural resources and security policies with the U.S. But I digress ... I get paid to write about this stuff in my day job.

But I just wanted to say that I don't blame people for being horrified at Liberal scandals, and uninspired by Martin's lackluster campaign. The NDP aren't true contenders in every riding, and people don't want to waste their vote (no offense NDP -- I've wasted many a vote on you guys ... Especially when I lived in Montreal) ... And the choice between bad and worse is no choice at all.

But I can't quite believe that Stephen Harper will likely be our next Prime Minister. I mean, how short are people's memories?

Okay, please read this before voting. Please.

Okay, under the covers for the next four years

I am seriously considering forming a firewall around all of the lefties and queer people I know ... a sort of warm fuzzy blanket that we can hide under, plug our ears and repeat "this is not really happening" over and over again, to the strains of progressive hip hop music by Michael Franti and K'naan. It will be like a giant lesbian potluck -- yes, you can all bring your cats. We can live together in harmony and pretend that people like Stockwell Day and Cheryl Gallant don't exist ... but we can't.

Those of us that toil in the offices of progressive-minded NGOs are lucky enough to hang out in the left wing bubble, where we all assume that everyone should have access to public health care, and of course poverty is a bad thing, and that universal social programs are better than $2 in our pockets at tax time, and climate change is not just a conspiracy (and on and on).

But the newspaper headlines are now announcing the possibility of a Stephen Harper majority, and I am sick to my stomach at the thought of re-opening the abortion debate (I mean seriously? They actually want to control women's ovaries again?), and the fact that the LGBT community will have to keep slogging away at the same sex marriage fight (which we were all happy to win and abandon in July) ... it's enough to make you want to move to Canada ... ah ... that's right, we are in Canada. But we might not believe it on Jan. 23rd.

So, what are we to do?

Well, for one thing, don't even think about voting "strategically." It doesn't work. Here is an explanation why. The best we can do is vote for the candidates that represent our values, and then spend the next four years making sure they stick to their election promises. You know what this means, girls .... meetings. Lots of meetings. Meetings to plan demonstrations. Meetings to put up posters. Meetings to discuss strategy. Meanings to discuss the true definition of "consensus." Endless "go arounds." But just think of them as potlucks, and you'll feel like you also have some semblance of a social life.

Let's just hope for a minority government. That might wipe the smarmy grin off of Harper's face for a few minutes, and give citizens an opportunity to have some effect.