Marching together

I’m going to the march in Canberra next Monday. I don’t do marches very often, but I’m going to this one.

I’m going because I’m angry and I’m going because I’m sad and I’m going because I’m tired. Because this shouldn’t still be happening. But it is. And I can’t bear the idea that this is just politics as usual, and that the government will get to move on as if nothing ever happened. It’s important to me that they see that we are here, and that this means something, and that we will not forget. It’s important to me that my niece doesn’t grow up in a world where a woman’s life is less important than a man’s career.

One thing that happens when you share your story of sexual assault is that other people come forward to share theirs. And there are so many people with these stories. These past few weeks, my DMs, my twitter feed, my blog comments, my email, my ears have been a clamour of women’s (and a few men’s) stories of pain and abuse. So I’m also going to Canberra because I feel like I’m carrying a lot of new stories now, in addition to the ones I was carrying already, and I’m hoping that if I take them with me they will start to mean something.

But speaking of carrying stories…

There are marches all over Australia, but I know that for many people, taking time off work or from caring duties to go to a protest just isn’t possible or practical. And I know that for others, attending a march isn’t feasible because of health or other issues. Marches simply aren’t accessible for everyone. (Which… is a problem, I think, but not one for this post.)

So if you really wanted to go to a march next Monday, but you can’t make it, drop me a comment. I’m not sure what the front of my placard is going to say yet (nobody who follows this blog will be surprised to learn that my mind runs more to essays than to pithy slogans), but the back is going to be the names * of the friends who can’t make it in person this time around, but who are with us in spirit.

I reckon those names will be a lot lighter to carry than the stories have been.

* Full names, first names or nicknames are all fine. And if you want me to screen your comment so others can’t see it, just let me know in your reply, and I’ll make it so.

When the political is personal

This is the post my brain keeps on trying to compose at three in the morning these last two weeks, instead of letting me sleep. Let’s see if finally writing the damn thing will help. This post is personal, and it’s angry, and it’s bitter and honestly kind of horrible.

Survivors of sexual assault might also want to give this post a miss, or at least proceed with care. Let’s face it, especially if you are in Australia, you’ve probably already had a rough week. And you probably don’t need to hear any of the things I’m going to write about anyway. Please, go watch something wholesome on YouTube instead. Or listen to some music, or read a book – I can highly recommend T. Kingfisher’s work if you want something light and funny and feminist and deeply kind – or do something else nice for yourself. Alternatively, this article has some good tips on taking care of yourself if the news is triggering you at present, including a list of numbers for support lines. What a rotten fortnight this has been.

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I’m afraid.

I’m deeply afraid for my American friends, who are, by and large, left-leaning folk in a country that is becoming increasingly and terrifyingly right-wing.  I’m afraid for my friends who are gay, for my friends who have chronic illnesses, for my friends who are people of colour, for my friends who are women, for my friends who are Muslim, or really any flavour other than straight, white, Christian, male, and conservative.

I’m afraid for the people who will lose their health coverage or their homes or their livelihoods if election promises are kept.  I’m afraid that people will lose their lives when Obamacare is repealed and they can no longer get coverage for a chronic illness, when they are refused terminations for pregnancies that are killing them, when they make the mistake of being black or transgender or hijabi in the vicinity of someone who needs to Stand His Ground. No, not afraid – horribly, miserably certain.

I’m afraid of a world where Trump’s victory is just another symptom of a growing movement away from kindness and compassion and cooperation towards isolation, hatred and fear of the other.  The Brexit vote, which could spell the beginning of the end of a union that had kept peace in Europe for a longer period than ever before.  The tragic popular vote in Colombia against the treaty that would have ended a civil war.  And we have nothing to feel smug about here in Australia, where we elected four Senators from One Nation, and where our fifteen year obsession with protecting our borders has led us to imprison and torture desperate people seeking our help.  (And let’s not forget our ongoing lack of political will to work with indigenous communities to find ways to close the gap in life expectancy, to prevent deaths in custody, and to fix the intergenerational social problems that our policies caused.)

I’m afraid of the implications of this.  Of war, certainly, but of all the other things we lose without mutual cooperation.  Global warming threatens our existence as a species (and we’ll take a lot of other species with us when we go), and requires a global, cooperative response.  The global refugee crisis requires countries to work together to find a way to help people in crisis and share our resources without impoverishing ourselves.  Poverty and terrorism are difficult problems but not impossible if enough countries are committed to finding a solution.

I’m afraid – and, frankly, disheartened and angry and sick to the stomach – because I’m a woman and it hurts on a far more personal level than I ever expected it to that America chose a man with no experience in the role, and who has shown every sign of being a dangerously chaotic leader at best (and one who, setting aside his boasts about assaulting women, has chosen a running mate whose vision for America is straight out of the Handmaid’s Tale) over an intelligent, level-headed woman with detailed, well-thought-out policies and thirty years of experience in the role.

I’m afraid because I’m writing a public blog post about this election, and even though I’m on the other side of the world, I feel as though I have to censor myself in order to be safe.

For the first time, I’m glad I don’t have children.  I have lost my hope for the future, and much of my faith in my fellow humans.

I do believe that love is stronger than fear, but I’m at a loss for how to apply this now.  Especially when so many people are facing very real threats to their existence.  And it is distressing – devastating – to know that so many people are choosing fear, taking their own fear and projecting it onto others until we all have to be afraid.

I keep thinking back to the late 1990s, when the Wall had come down, and we thought that war and extremism and the threat of nuclear strikes were done with. We were reducing CFCs and shrinking the hole in the ozone layer. I don’t *think* climate change was on the agenda, but there was a will towards international cooperation about the big issues. At least, I think there was. Maybe I’m remembering it wrong.

I can’t believe we’ve gone so far backwards. I want the alternate timeline, where we kept Keating and never had John Howard and children overboard and demonising refugees. I want the timeline where we somehow got things right so that there was no rise of extremism and terrorism leading to 9/11. I want the timeline where America got a president who cared about climate change and healthcare and poverty. I want the one where everyone turned out to vote against Brexit, rather than assuming someone else would do it for them.

(In addition to losing my faith in humanity, I’ve lost my faith in time travel.  If it existed, surely someone would have fixed all this by now.)

To my American friends – I don’t know what to say. I don’t think there are any words that can help. So I’ll just repeat what I said yesterday. May your country hold together in hope and love and compassion, and may you all stay safe and well, today, tomorrow, and thereafter.

I’m thinking of you, and praying for you, and will stand with you as far as I can from this distance, and I hope you will be OK.

What you can do

I don’t like to leave a post which is just angst and sorrow with no constructive place to put those feelings afterwards.  But this one, we can’t fix with a single action.  It seems to me that a lot of the big battles have been fought and lost this year, and we can’t fight them again just yet, but that still leaves the small, everyday things.  We can still be kind to each other.  We can still listen to each other, and try to learn and to understand.  We can do small things to improve our own lives and the lives of those around us.  This may sound facile, but it isn’t – nobody can fight the big battles day after day, without taking time to regroup.  It’s going to be a long road back for the whole world, I think, so we need to conserve energy, but also to do things that keep us in the habit of caring and of acting.  We need to find places where we can act as individuals and have a few easy victories so that we don’t give in to despair.

Here is a highly incomplete list of really small, easy things you can do for yourselves and for each other.
  • Donate to a charity on behalf of someone else.  Oxfam Unwrapped will send a friend a card on your behalf, telling them what you donated in their name.  The bag of pig’s manure seems like an appropriate choice right now.  So does the Women’s Rights gift, that trains women in Bangladesh for leadership roles.
  • Bake something delicious and give it to someone.  I feed my colleagues a lot (but not tomorrow, because I’ve spent all evening writing this.  Sorry, my scientists!), but dropping something in to a local homeless shelter, or for the doctors and nurses at your local hospital is a nice touch.  Or you could do this.
  • Write a letter to a politician thanking them for their work on something you appreciate.  Or write a letter or a card to a teacher or friend who has helped you, telling them how much you value them.
  • If hand crafts are your thing, make a quilt or a cape or knit a teddy bear for a sick or traumatised child, or check out one of these campaigns.
  • If you are in a choir or orchestra or other musical group, get a group together and see if there is a local retirement home, or hospital, or detention centre, that might like a short concert.
  • Recommend a book to someone.  Buy it for them, if you can afford it.  Make it something fun and clever and escapist and quietly feminist.  (My recommendations this week are Sherry Thomas’s book A Study in Scarlet Women, which is a really clever gender-swapped Sherlock Holmes; The Invisible Library, by Genevieve Cogman, a fantasy adventure with secret agents, alternate worlds, and stolen books; and anything by Lois McMaster Bujold, but especially Paladin of Souls.)
  • Ring someone who you know is having a rough time right now for a chat.
  • Volunteer for a tree planting day, or at a wildlife shelter.
  • Download Mapswipe, and help Medecins Sans Frontières find people in disaster zones (note that you will need good eyes for this activity)
  • Take a bath, turn off your phone, and have an early night.  Books, music, favourite TV programs, partners and pets might all be part of this arrangement.  It doesn’t have to be tonight.  But give yourself permission to take a night off from the fear.  You can afford one night.  We all can.

Persuasion and the art of listening

My father sent me an interesting article by Zaria Gorvett of the BBC discussing the ways in which society is becoming more polarised, and pointing out that talking to like-minded friends about a subject actually tends to make people more polarised on that subject and less open to new information.  It’s interesting, because this occurs even when people are deliberately having these conversations to try to add nuance to their opinions – and because apparently it turns out that the more information people acquire, the more polarised they tend to be.

(I wonder if this last bit is because the more information you have, the more confident you are that you have the full and true picture, for which there can be only one possible explanation?)

I went to three presentations in the last three days and while the subject matter was wildly different, I found myself noticing some common threads between the presentations and this article.  This post is my attempt to tease some of this out and make sense of it.  (A quick disclaimer: these are my notes on the presentations I went to – the things that stayed with me may not have been the key messages that the presenters were trying to get across, and it’s entirely possible that I’m not representing them entirely accurately!  If you are one of the presenters and are reading this, and I have managed to misquote or mischaracterise what you said, please comment, and I will fix it forthwith!)

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Reflections on Truth

This is not a post I particularly want to write, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently, and I think not writing about it would be worse.  It’s about something that happened to me quite a long time ago, and I’m putting it under a cut, because it’s pretty personal, and it talks about sexual assault.  And I’ll be screening all comments, for similar reasons.  Also, note that some of the comments include people discussing their own experience of sexual assault, which may be distressing to read.  I certainly found them so.

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