Tag Archives: social justice

Healing, and playing the victim

Devote too much attention to your experience of being a victim, and someone will come by and knock you back. Wallowing in victimhood, you will be told, is bad, and wrong and just keeps you in that victim place and you should shut up about it and move on. We have a culture that does not give any of us much space for supposed negative emotions – grief, rage, pain, and so forth are to be tidied away and denied. It can also be uncomfortable for people who are fine, to hear from people who are not, because it may challenge assumptions and beliefs, expose vulnerability and/or complicity.

A person who has been a victim – be that of exploitation, abuse, assault, emotional, physical or psychological mistreatment has a process to go through. Abusers tend to be good at victim blaming. There will be reasons for what happened and the victim will have been faced with the reasons enough times to believe them. This happens because you are bad, you deserve it. You aren’t worth a proper wage, or respect, or kindness. You don’t properly qualify as a person so human rights don’t apply to you. Hearing those reasons keeps the victim in a situation. However, oppression can be bigger and systematic – as with racism and sexism. Your people deserve no better. Your gender has less value to this community.

In order to change anything, the victim needs to see their own victimhood. They need to recognise that what happened was not fair or deserved. Often this process means connecting with others who have had, or are having the same experiences. It is easier to see what’s wrong when you see it happening to someone else. In swapping notes, victims gain insight, courage and confidence. At this point, it is not unusual for non-victims to pile in and complain about the pity party, the reinforcing of the idea of victimhood. I’ve never experienced sexism so you other women are clearly the problem. I’ve never experienced racism so I don’t think it exists… and so forth. It doesn’t help.

When people recognise the abuse, and start picking apart the mechanics of the abuse, they become able to make changes. They get out of the relationship or the job, if it’s that easy. They start protesting and demanding equal rights – which evidently takes decades if not longer. There comes a point when the victims start demanding that the non-victims pay attention and make some changes.

If you don’t let people recognise their victimhood, you don’t give them the space to get angry and change things. If you don’t let people swap notes about their exploitation, you don’t let them organise to make change. If you don’t let victims speak about their mistreatment, you will never see what in the system facilitates it. You stay comfortably inside the system that is facilitating abuse. That’s no doubt why it is easier to complain about the pity party, tell people to shut up, and denigrate them for ‘playing the victim’. Otherwise we might have to deal with our own advantages and complicity, and that would be uncomfortable. It is easy to put personal comfort ahead of social justice.

Abuse and exploitation are not things that happen away, in private arrangements. These things happen in the context of cultures we are part of – systems, laws, balances of privilege that we are all upholding. If we make it the business only of the victim to work out how to turn that around and become a survivor, the underlying causes of abuse and exploitation remain, with our tacit support.


Goddess mythologies and social justice

A guest blog from Karen Tate

How are ancient Goddess mythologies and religions relevant for social justice?  How can we all hear the call of the Goddess?

So let us look at several brief examples of the Sacred Feminine as deity, metaphor or myth and how we’re given a template for living or advice for values we might embrace with social justice in mind…..

1) We find under the broad umbrella of Goddess, many faces across continents and cultures, with no mandate that we worship one name, one face.  Instead we see a metaphor for plurality, diversity and inclusion in the loving and life-affirming Sacred Feminine, rather than the jealous, One Way, androcentric and exclusionary god of patriarchy keen on asking men to sacrifice their sons to prove their loyalty and a holy book filled with violence.  Those embracing Goddess might easily see choosing peace, tolerance, gender equality and peoples of all walks of life; gay, straight, people of all skin colors and religions or no religion at all, as being in alignment with Her diversity, resulting in a  more inclusive, just, equal, balanced and sustainable world and society.

2)  Consider the mythology of the Inuit Goddess Sedna.  She is the gatekeeper between humankind and the sea creatures of the regions near icy waters on which indigenous people depend for their livelihood.  If mankind  becomes too greedy and exploits the creatures of the sea, Sedna cuts humanity off until he takes only what he needs.  Greed and excess are taboo as we are all inter-dependent upon each other.  As our environmental Goddess, Sedna, teaches us to be wise stewards of Mother Earth and Her creatures.  This is a rejection of excess and exploitation in all forms and She calls us to environmentalism and to be Her spokespeople protecting habitats across the globe.  We might be called to be at the forefront fighting against fracking, poisoning our water and air, and depleting our natural resources.  We would deplore exploitation of any kind, including wage discrimination, worker exploitation or multi-national corporations decimating local economies and indigenous peoples.   We certainly would use our vote to support those who fight for the 99% and allies who would  protect Mother Earth and Sedna’s creatures.

3) Egyptian wall carvings clearly show the Egyptian Goddess Isis bestowed upon pharaohs their right to rule and they were to rule their kingdoms governing under the laws of the Goddess Maat, namely truth, balance, order, and justice.  Similarly, we see the Hindu Goddess Kali standing atop her consort, Shiva, whose powers must be activated by Her. Clearly this suggests patriarchy, or rule of the father, resulting in rule by the male gender,  has not always been the way of the world, nor would be the way of the world with Goddess restored to center.  Neither would we want patriarchy in a skirt as absolute power corrupts absolutely.  Even a cursory glimpse here shows a call for female leadership and a respect for women’s power, both of which are sorely lacking in our world as academia, corporate America, religious institutions and politics has less than 20% representation by women in the United States.  We must support women who embrace Goddess ideals and support their leadership in these bastions of male control.  Isis instructing pharaoh she is granting him the right to rule, but only if he employs the Laws of the Goddess Maat, can be seen as support for civil rights, voter rights, worker and immigrant rights and consumer protection from powers that might mis-use and exploit the individual or the planet.

4)   In the thealogy of the Sacred Feminine, Goddess affirms women’s bodies and sexuality.  Priestesses of pharmacology, mid-wives and women hold the power over their own bodies and life and death is in their hands.

Today the patriarchy dictates to women the parameters of beauty and women fall victims to their standards spending millions with plastic surgeons to live up to some impossible ideal. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, 13.1 million cosmetic procedures were performed in 2010, up 5% from 2009.  Beyond physical beauty, the patriarchy wants to control all aspects of women’s sexuality and reproduction.  Known in the United States as Big Pharma, pharmaceutical companies now hold the power over women’s bodies as they encourage women to disconnect from their menses, that monthly inconvenience, that curse.  They say, here, take our pill and see your sacred blood magically disappear.  Disconnect from one of the very things that empowers you as a woman   In a not-so veiled culture war, one political party has declared war on women by attempting to de-fund Planned Parenthood, thwarting access to contraception, trying to pass laws to make divorces harder to obtain, trying to legalize the murder of abortion providers, and by having miscarriages investigated and abortions abolished.  Women’s bodies and lives are the terrain on which this current extremist conservative movement is taking a stand.

If we had a feminine face of god at the center of society, or Her ideals affirming life, female authority, sacred sexuality, and leadership,  men and their institutions would not control or dictate to women.  Equal is equal.  Women would understand their sexuality and bodies are sacred and in their own hands and would not be complicit in their own oppression or exploitation.  Fortunately many women are catching on to this as they embrace groups like the Red Tent Movement.

5) Goddess thealogy affirms female power.  Where Goddess was worshiped, her temples were the centers of wisdom, culture, and financial power and were often presided over by women.  The Unitarian Universalist Women’s Cakes for the Queen of Heaven curriculum, as well as researchers such as Merlin Stone and Heide Goettner-Abendroth, in her book, Societies of Peace: Matriarchies Past, Present and Future  point to matrilineal, matrifocal or matriarchal societies  where Goddess was venerated and maternal values practiced, women and children were protected and had a spot at the center of the culture, reaping the benefit of that positioning at the center.  Not only must we restore women’s position in society to that of equal partnership with men but we must once again turn to the attributes of the Feminine, such as caring, sharing, nurturing, negotiation, collaboration, solidarity, partnership and peace – all of which have been marginalized or demonized under patriarchy – and embrace these values so that quality of life is restored for the most of us.

In conclusion, I’ve touched briefly on but a few ideas showing how Sacred Feminine herstory, metaphor and  mythology might be reclaimed and reinterpreted to provide a roadmap toward a more sustainable future.  We have in the feminine images of divinity deities, archetypes and ideals to show us the way.  It is up to us if we want to move away from or temper the “authoritarian father” idealogy that shapes our religions and culture and instead heed the advice of the Great She and her Sacred Feminine liberation thealogy as our role model.

How do we hear her call?  I can only speak for myself.  Once I started focusing on Her, trying to learn about different goddesses as either deity, archetype or ideal, she becomes a part of you.  You are inspired by her, motivated by her, empowered by her.  You just have to listen to your heart, your head and your body and you will develop and strengthen the connection.  I think its really that simple.  It’s a relationship of reciprocity.  You focus on Her and you get much in return.

 

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I recently read Karen’s book, I thought it was inspiring and I very much enjoyed it. You can read my review on Goodreads. Goddess Calling can be found here –


A real charity case

Below is a press release from the National Bargee Travellers Association. Please share the link, this story needs to be in the public eye so that people understand what a donation to ‘charity’ Canal & River Trust means in practice. This situation is sick, and only widespread public condemnation will bring this outfit into line. It is my personal opinion that there is nothing charitable about the Canal & River Trust and that their behaviour is a affront.

Waterways Charity demand £76,000 from disabled boater denied Legal Aid

Following a Section 8 case, the Canal & River Trust (CRT) is bringing further court proceedings to obtain over £76,000 it claims it spent on legal action against disabled boat dweller George Ward. Mr Ward’s Legal Aid covered advice but he was unable to obtain Legal Aid for representation in court. If he had been represented through Legal Aid, CRT would not be able to make this claim for legal costs.

CRT is aware that Mr Ward’s only income is Incapacity Benefit and Disability Living Allowance of £102 per week. He has been unable to work since an injury that left him disabled. Mr Ward’s only assets are his home, a pair of historic boats needing extensive repair work that he bought for £3,830. If CRT is successful in enforcing its costs order, it can petition for Mr Ward’s bankruptcy which means his boats can be sold to pay the costs, leaving him homeless. Much of the £76,000 CRT claims to have spent was used to pay the QC, Christopher Stoner, who unusually for this type of case, represented CRT in case management hearings as well as at the main trial. According to CRT’s Bill of Costs, Mr Stoner’s fees amount to almost £45,000.

BW/CRT started Section 8 proceedings in 2010 after Mr Ward was unable to get a Boat Safety Certificate in time to re-license his motor boat. On the day that he got the Certificate, BW issued the Section 8. During the court proceedings BW prevented him from re-licensing his butty boat, claiming that its licence depended on the motor boat being licensed, which was not true as both boats had been licensed independently. Mr Ward attempted to licence his boats several times but each time BW sent back his cheque, even when he tendered all the money BW alleged he owed including a disputed Late Payment Fee of £150.

Mr Ward eventually bought a second motor boat for £1,100 and tried to license the two boats not subject to Section 8 proceedings, but BW again returned his cheque. Shortly before the hearing in Bristol County Court in October 2012, he sold the first motor boat, using the proceeds to repair his second motor boat. The court granted the Section 8 but this was nullified by the fact that the boat had a new owner. The Judge declined CRT’s request to apply the Section 8 to any other boats belonging to Mr Ward and did not grant CRT the injunction it wanted to evict him from its 2,000 miles of waterways for ever. An injunction could have meant that Mr Ward risked being sent to prison simply for living on the two boats that had never been subject to Section 8 proceedings.

George Ward said “CRT’s move to take over £76,000 from me that they know I don’t have is vindictive and malicious. They are determined to hound me off the waterways. They failed with the Section 8, they failed to get an injunction, so they are trying another way to make me homeless”. He continued “This is harassment, they are trying to put psychological pressure on me so that I move off the canals. They won’t succeed, except over my dead body”.

CRT knows that if Mr Ward had obtained Legal Aid for representation in court it would not have been able to claim these costs from Mr Ward. There is no realistic prospect of recovering £76,000 from a 54-year-old disabled man on benefits whose only assets are worth less than £4,000. Civil court costs cannot be recovered through deductions from welfare benefits. Neither can costs be recovered from money paid to the same organisation for another purpose. CRT is aware that pursuing Mr Ward for this debt will make him homeless.

CRT could have allowed Mr ward to re-license his boat when he obtained the Boat Safety Certificate, and could have sought to recover the disputed late payment charge as a Small Claim. CRT could also have used its discretion under Section 17(11) of the British Waterways Act 1995 to permit his boat to be on the waterways without a Boat Safety Certificate until the certificate was obtained. Instead it vindictively pursued him with a Section 8 action and rejected all his attempts to pay.

In the absence of a Solicitor to represent him, Mr Ward was assisted in court by Nick Brown, Legal Officer of the National Bargee Travellers Association (NBTA). This was necessary partly because Mr Ward found the court hearings extremely distressing. In a move that was obviously intended to intimidate Mr Brown and silence the NBTA, CRT also sought a costs order against Mr Brown. The Judge rejected this, stating in the Judgement that Mr Brown had been “helpful and polite”.

The Royal Courts of Justice provides guidance regarding “McKenzie Friends” (unqualified assistants for people in court without a legal representative). Nowhere does this guidance include a warning that a McKenzie Friend is at risk of a costs order against them for helping someone who would otherwise face court proceedings alone and unassisted.

Section 8 (2) of the British Waterways Act 1983 entitles CRT to remove an unlicensed boat from the waterway. A Boat Safety Certificate is normally required before a boat can be licensed.

For more information contact: secretariat@bargee-traveller.org.uk


Working Green

There have been a lot of dramatic shifts in my life lately, and one of them is that I’ve just taken on a new job. I can’t call it ‘conventional employment’ because it won’t be – odd and variable hours, a lot of working from home, occasional periods of frenetic activity punctuated by quite bits, probably. I’m going to be the local press officer for The Green Party.

I’ve been a quiet member of The Green Party for about four years now, and for me it’s an important aspect of my being a Druid. The ancient Druids were, by all accounts, advisors to rulers. While I believe very strongly that the state should be separate from religion in terms of systems, as individual people we are both political and spiritual, or at least can be. I cannot separate the need for responsible political action from my spiritual life. The planet needs compassionate politics with an eye to the long term. We need social justice. Generally speaking, good environmental policy and social justice go together easily. We all need clean air and safe water, by way of obvious examples.

With the terrifying prospect of fracking on the agenda, with social justice pushed right out to the margins by a mainstream politics of short term greed, there is a real need for a Green agenda.

For me this is a dream job, because it enables me to take my writerly skills-base and put it to good use. One of the things that I struggle with, often, as a writer, is whether I am sufficiently useful to be making a difference. I got into writing in the first place because I wanted to make a meaningful contribution, and I believed that sharing words would be a good way to do that. I still do hold that belief, but these are different times from those in which Dickens raised awareness of the poor, or Blake challenged the dark, Satanic mills.

Putting my language skills to work for a good cause feels like a step in the right direction, for me. There’s also scope to work on making Green issues more acceptable, trying to reach out to a wider audience, not by ‘dumbing down’ but by finding accessible language, and engaging ways of telling the stories.

There are many things I love about Green politics. My job explicitly requires me not to do anything that looks at all like spin, or for that matter, that *is* spin. There is also a policy of polite and positive engagement. We don’t spend our time attacking individuals, it’s all about the ideas. We also don’t run campaigns full of negativity and misery. A big part of the idea is to try and inspire people, to facilitate individual responsibility, helping people who might not otherwise speak up, to engage with politics and make changes.

For a small party, the Greens in the UK punch well above their weight in terms of making changes. We get things done. Much of this happens outside of parliament (just the one green MP). There are a lot of Green councillors in the country, working quietly at a local level to try and improve things. I’m really proud to be stepping up to be a part of that.


Beating the system

I’m watching the economic and social justice memes floating about on the social networking sites. The sheer joy of seeing the blindingly obvious being stated. You cannot run a system purely to serve those at the top, it will break and fall apart. Economics is more make believe than proper science. What we have doesn’t work. And that other one, the 100 richest people in the world could end extreme poverty four times over with what they raked in last year. I’m not going to say ‘earned’ because there is nothing that could merit that kind of wealth. People are recognising and saying that money earned does not equate to hard work, or effort, or value of what you do. It equates to the power you had in the first place. The Emperor has no clothes on.

The thought I keep coming back to, is that I do not want to contribute to the bank balances of the super rich. Watching the immoral, illogical behaviour of my own government, I’m not mad keen to give them cash either, they clearly cannot be relied upon to make good choices in how they use it. So what does that leave me? I can’t decline to pay taxes.

Or can I?

Small businesses and lone traders do not, if their turnover is very low, have to register to pay VAT. If I stay away from products with duty on them, that’s more money that isn’t going to the government. If I buy second hand, from charity shops, that’s all kinds of sticking a finger up at the system. If I buy from a creator then I know at least in the short term, my money goes to them. If I buy a small brand not a big name, use a local shop not a supermarket, and so on. Basically, if I can see the person who made the thing, or grew it, or undertook it, and I pay them, I have some idea where my money went.
If I make my own alcohol and give it away.

Giving things away is really powerful. No tax. No engagement with the money systems at all. I used to use freecycle, and when I’m not on the boat, I will again. I just gave away my poetry. I give away my time for good causes, and my ideas in the form of this blog. I can do more.
There is no way I can extricate myself entirely from a system that sends cash to people who have way too much of it already, but if all of us just made a few token gestures at non-cooperation we’d make some interesting progress.

Money appears to be what our government cares about. Protesting doesn’t bother them. Vote and you get different faces and the same shit. But hit them in the bank account, take away even a little bit of power from their economic systems, and they become vulnerable. They can’t legislate into making us give money to Rupert Murdock rather than going to a live gig. They can’t make us buy fuel rather than walking. You can’t lock people up for not buying lager, or for giving away clothes they don’t want any more, and yet the power to destabilize the whole system is there, in those small acts of rebellion.


Beyond tolerance

Having contemplated the limits of tolerance, I thought it might be productive to ask what we do when we hit those boundaries. When we find someone else intolerable, it’s easy to give ourselves justifications for anger. We can clench fists and work up a good helping of moral indignation, and then decide that things ought to be done and this should not be allowed to continue. We can decide that based on our own opinions, we have the right to take action and challenge the behaviour of another. There will be times when this is both justified and necessary. There are also plenty of times when it isn’t. There was an incident years ago when an angry mob, wound up by tabloid reporting, decided to do something about a paediatrician in their area, not having grasped this is a wholly different title to paedophile. When we lash out in anger, even if we feel total justified at the time, we can still make horrible, irreversible mistakes. If we respond with aggression, because we feel entitled to do so, what are doing? Do we really feel everyone is entitled to act unpleasantly if they find something else intolerable? The greater the outrage we feel, the more natural it seems to want to respond with something decisive. A little justice perhaps. An eye for an eye. There are plenty of men who think infidelity is a valid justification for murder. There are people who think blasphemy justifies murder. There are people who think being raped is the fault of the woman and that it would then be reasonable to stone her to death for infidelity. We can recognise there are things that should not be tolerated, but as soon as we use our own intolerance to justify violence, cruelty or oppression, we have ceased to act honourably. How then can we tackle unacceptable situations and behaviour? Whatever the precise methods we go for, I think the broadest answer must be ‘with compassion.’ That doesn’t mean letting abuse go unchecked and crime ignored, but it does mean drawing breath, stepping back, considering bigger pictures and root causes as well as the anger of the moment. I have a friend who works in prisons teaching basic literacy and maths to inmates. That says a lot about the circumstances of many people who get on the wrong side of the law. Studies show poor nutrition contributes to crime and antisocial behaviour. Abusers may well have been victims as children. Locking people up and making more restrictive laws does not solve much. People who are happy with their lot in life do not tend to become terrorists. That doesn’t mean placating everyone either. It doesn’t mean everyone has to have their own way in all things for fear of what they might otherwise do. What underpins every society is individual relationships between people. Relationships between different groups of people. Relationships between organisations. Relationships with the state. Failures in these beget problems. Where there is inequality of opportunity and education, where the system is stacked against the poor, where there is abuse of power, corruption, oppression and institutionalised cruelty, there are going to be social problems. And equally a culture that looks the other way, allows certain groups of people to break laws, does not hold people accountable for their actions and so forth will also foster disrespect and crime. If we want to vent anger and point fingers, it’s not enough to think about individual wrongs. We need to look out our whole society, its beliefs, methods, institutions, the things it tells people, the pressures it exerts, the actions it condones. Society is made up of every individual within it, and each of us is affected by what everyone else does. So you can’t think about answers purely on the individual scale, or purely on a political scale either. At the limits of tolerance, we need to find the motives, to demand real justice and make real changes. We are so far from being a fair society, it’s little wonder we have so much to get angry about, and compared to some of the world, we English speaking nations are models of social justice and democracy. And we aren’t even close to what that should mean.