Thursday, June 9, 2016

Mohawk Institute: the "Mushhole"

My class toured this historical "museum of conscience" with a survivor of the school as a guide. It operated as a residential school from 1828 to 1970. We weren't in the original building because it had been burned down and rebuilt twice. Some schools were burnt down and not rebuilt, choosing instead to ship the inhabitants elsewhere. This site persisted. The roof leaks now, so there was water damage, but Wynne promised some funds to help restore the building. They plan to furnish the empty rooms the way they were when it was operational.


There's part of me that so loves old buildings that I can divorce myself from their history enough to notice the trim work, carved pillars, and tin ceilings marred by fluorescent lights. I would gladly offer my labour to restore it, but it smelled like they might have a mould problem from the water damage that would require a professional to clean.

There was too much to see and discuss in one short visit. I suggested to my class that maybe the institute could make it an overnight trip once they have beds and desks. Then tour groups could experience sleeping in an open room with nothing but mush for breakfast (overcooked oatmeal). But I had no takers keen to spend a night in there. They had a better idea though: an audio headset for self-guided tours using the voices of a variety of survivors discussing their lives as visitors walked through different rooms:
  • the front hall where children were dropped off, some with parental expectations of better days, three meals and an education, but others as virtual orphans, not to see their moms again for a decade;
  • the intake room where hair was cut and a number tattooed on their little hands, their only ID for their time there; stories of older children telling the younger ones not to forget their real names;
  • the dining hall and kitchen with long tables on either side, one for girls and one for boys, all with numbered chairs with siblings separated to keep them from talking their language; 
  • the makeshift stage area where a bizarre man in a stuffed red costume showed up one day each year with a small present for everyone, a ruse to indoctrinate them into the Christian church;
  • the cupboard under the stairs where children were locked for days with only bread, water, and some salt, in close proximity to the sleeping quarters, all the better for the children to hear the wails of the punished (without any prospect of a Hagrid coming to save the day); 
  • the clothes washing room where boys would peek through the windows at the girls;
  • the clothes folding room table with numbers carved beneath to show who liked whom (46 + 27) and many romances attempting to blossom without the benefit of enough contact to say hello; 
  • the boiler room full of unspeakable tales; 
  • the window where children would wait for their parents, day-by-day, every June, with a few still waiting as September rolled around again;
  • the grounds where the youngest collected eggs that they rarely got to eat; 
  • all liberally peppered with some laughs to ease the tension - stories of digging through the local landfill for boxes of candy with the cellophane broken rendering them unsellable, or the rare treat of being chosen to go mow a lawn or rake some leaves for someone in the city. 
A talk by a younger guide whose grandparents had attended brought a few surprises. Hitler had used the early reservation system and residential schools, solutions to the "Indian problem," as a template for the "Jewish problem" almost a century later. I had no idea. 

But even more thought provoking was being referred to as "you people," as in, "How long have you people been a country now? 160 some years?" That one sentence shifted my thinking considerably. After reading John Ralston Saul's Fair Country and Comeback, I had gotten a lovely impression that Canada is one big family just waiting for us to return what we stole so we can finally see that we're all in this together. But that line made me realize that, for this guide at least, being united under Canada is not an option. She's from North America, not Canada. 

I started understanding it all something like this: It's like if two siblings are sharing a place, and the brother's a jerk to the sister, and the sister gets her own place. It doesn't really matter how much the thoughtless brother apologizes, because it's not just about that. The sister has her own path that's separate - will always be separate - from her brother's path. It was a pipe-dream to think they'd live together forever. They're family, but have always been independent of one another. 

A student was offended by the comment, but I was just saddened by finally getting that we're on parallel paths that won't merge - maybe aren't really meant to merge.
And the day brought a clearer understanding of the intergenerational effects of the schools.  So many studies have found evidence of things like childhood trauma being linked to later drug and alcohol abuse, and moving during early adolescence (when teenagers on reserves are shipped off to high-school) correlating to a higher incidence of suicide. We know that a rough childhood is hard to get over. When both parents grew up restricted from forming bonds with other children, they can struggle to relate to each other much less their children. When it's suggested that people should just forgive and forget the past, just get over it already, it makes no sense to me.



Sunday, June 5, 2016

Avoiding the Lesser of Two Evils

It's not my country, but what happens in America affect the world. And we're right next door. The Left Forum had a panel discussion a couple weeks ago with Glen FordChris Hedges, and Jill Stein, chaired by Linda Thompson, that's worth a listen. It's two hours long, and a feat of tolerance for all the chattering and cell phones in the audience, so I summarized some highlights below.




In a nutshell, Clinton is just as scary as Trump, so everyone who hoped to vote for Sanders, should vote for the Green Party or any independent party if Sanders doesn't win in the primaries. The Greens are unlikely to win, but it will send a clear message that there are enough Americans who care about reform, that they won't fall for the ideology that there are only two parties running. Here are their arguments heavily condensed and slightly paraphrased:


Hedges on the Façade of a Two-Party System:
"Once the neo-liberal ideology is no longer able to hold the loyalty of a population, those regimes will collapse. Mechanisms that defend power are no longer willing to work on its behalf. That process of revolutionary change is slow and often invisible. The facade of the superstructure remains in place. That is precisely where we are in American history. It’s incumbent upon those who care for the socialist society, that we step outside these structures, even if we remain a minority, so that we provide an alternative to this power.  
Nationalism is a disease which has infected both parties. It deifies the military. It sucks people into its orbit; it has at its disposal powerful forms of indoctrination that stokes the kind of proto-fascism we see at Trump rallies. Democrats are as culpable as Republicans at creating this toxic environment. Clintons are built on loyalty to corporate power and white supremacy. They passed the three-strikes law, massively expanded sentences, expanded the prison industrial complex, pushed through the first trade agreement. John Ralston Saul called Bill Clinton's administration a corporate coup d'état.  
Sanders was okay with Israelis bombing Palestinian communities. He's an AIPAC wind-up doll. He's been in the pockets of the Clintons for a long time; he campaigned for Bill Clinton in 2004. He's got a faustian bargain with the Democrats, and he's naive to think he could compete fairly in the primaries.  
We owe it to our children to step outside this system and begin to fight back. We'll never achieve power through political parties. All of our energy has to be invested in movement. We have to knit groups together (anti-fracking, black lives matter, fight for the minimum wage...) and carry out sustained acts of civil disobedience. The ability to reform from within the structures of power has been taken from us.

Stein on the Lesser Evil Agenda:
"I'm most horrified by a political system that gives two lethal choices and says pick between them. This is a reflection of inherent dysfunctions in this system. Both are minority parties, so it's important that we seize this moment. A report from NOAA last week discussed an Oh my God report confirming that we could expect nine feet of sea level rise by 2050 if we don’t take profoundly different action by then. Instead we get drill baby drill on steroids not only increasing, but accelerating.

While agreement in Paris was being forged, and Obama was celebrating, they were behind close doors, signing on to the end of the oil export ban which massively increases oil exploration. We have a choice of a corporate vision with a smile or without a smile. Both parties are funded by same predatory banks, fossil fuel giants, and war profiteers. It’s clear we can’t keep going in this direction. Climate meltdown has a deadline. By 2050 all of the coastal US cities will be under water and 600 million people will be refugees. The greater evil is the economic meltdown we’re looking at. Banks are bigger than ever.

But we actually have the power. Alice Walker said that the biggest way we give up power is not knowing we have it in the first place. If we don’t fight in the halls of power, then we’re basically raising the white flag of surrender, and we’ll be bulldozed by the stroke of a pen. The great news is that we have the power to stand up. If you take just people locked into predatory student debt, locked into economic servitude, and those people are 43 million strong, that is a winning plurality in a presidential race. There's only one party who will bail them out if that word gets out. It doesn’t take a whole lot of motivation to see it can be erased with a stroke of a pen if they vote Green. We’re in the polls now where Sanders was six months ago. As Bernie’s campaign begins to fold in a path of sabotage, we can’t have a revolutionary campaign in a counter-revolutionary party.

We need coalitions. Change is not going to happen under Clinton. We need to stand up now if we want to decommission nuclear power plants on the coast because they will flood out. We should be telling supreme court what to do. We did it in the 60s. We brought troops home; brought in clean air act and clean water act. Don’t accept that we’re powerless. We are powerful. And we have the numbers it takes to win the battle. We just need the courage of our convictions. There's an attitude of cowardice that is unleashed when we’re told to accept voting for the lesser evil. We need to have courage. It’s time to forget the lesser evil and fight for the greater good like our lives depend on it, because they do. 
The lesser evil paves the way for the greatest evil and makes it inevitable. People can’t mobilize themselves; witness the beating Sanders is getting. That party is being hijacked. Through the policies of the Clintons, we got the makings of Trump. We got the right-wing populism which is a response to the economic desperation of the people caused by Clinton. In terms of the nuclear threat, the Obama administration withdrew from the anti-ballistic missile treaty which was the main tool to move towards nuclear disarmament, and now the Obama administration is leading a trillion dollar movement towards nuclear war. We know what Hillary will do. She wants to take an airborne attack. Trump is risky, but Hillary is certain death.

Thompson on Some Problems with the Left:
Che Guevara said that revolutionaries are motivated by great feelings of love. The left is bad for getting too intellectual and has problems expressing that love. People have to feel safe abandoning the lesser evil and going for the unknown. Unity is the key. There are lots of little tiny groups of activist that have to unite. 
A lot of the problem isn’t Trump, it’s the corporate media and the 1%. The left-wing media is to blame as well. Amy Goodman has blacked out Jill’s campaign as much as the right-wing media does. There’s a section of Democracy Now where you can say what you want to see on their show. Ask them why she’s not covering these parties. We can’t let them get away with this anymore. Call for a revolution.


Hedges on the Prison System and Fascism:
We have to stop talking about people within the system of mass incarceration and focusing on non-violent drug offenders. There are round-ups of everyone in the room in a drug deal. 94% of the people incarcerated never go to trial. They slap all sorts of charges on you that you didn’t commit. They tell you, if you go to trial, you’ll be charged with all of it, and you’ll never win. But if you accept the plea of 11 years, we'll cut this and this. 80% of the people in the prison system shouldn’t be there. The whole system lynched them. My students with the longest sentences went to trial because they didn’t commit the crime, and they punished them with 30-year sentences. 
Fascism rises out of a political vacuum. We have to stop getting conned into the personality. We have to see the system for what it is. In terms of fossil fuels, war machines, etc., there will be no difference between Trump and Clinton. Read Democracy Incorporated by Sheldon Wolin to get an understanding of how inverted totalitarianism works. Neither Clinton nor Trump will set up a reasonable environmental policy. In this system there’s no way to vote against Exxon Mobile. 


Ford on Black Leaders
"Some black leaders are still corporate owned. We can’t just vote for people who look like us. We have to support people with values, people willing to stand up against racism and imperialism. We have to get away from skin-based politics."

Stein added, "The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement put together a plan in the context of an emergency of racial injustice that demands attention."

A commenter added: "Society can’t be dominated by white progressive and white liberals. There are so many overt displays of white supremacy, that black people don’t want to join them. We need to think of a society where you don’t have control of most of the land, because it wasn’t yours to begin with."


Hedges on Fighting for Marginalized Communities: 
Within marginal communities the system of capitalism has created a system of perpetual evictions, which has affected the psychological health of citizens and the cohesive nature of neighbourhoods. In the 30s, people would get up and block sheriffs from bringing foreclosures. Capitalism destroys the cohesiveness that make that resistance possible. Men are in prison and women and children are evicted. Marx called this surplus labour. People are preyed upon. They lock you in a cage to generate $40-50 thousand a year. Whole corporate entities (moving companies, storage companies, insurance...) are built around benefiting from systems of oppression. 
We’re not in those community to see what’s been done to crush those people. None of us could endure that. It gets back to the dark system of corporate capitalism. You have to look now at sacrifice zones - at what we have allowed to be done to the vulnerable in society. We’ve gotten caught up in the boutique activism of personality politics. Feminism should be about empowering oppressed women, but it’s about having a woman president and woman CEOs. The bottom ⅔ of blacks in the country are worse off than when King marched. White liberals are caught in the game of diverting attention from horrific, brutal, cruel forms of injustice. I teach in a prison because I wouldn’t know otherwise. These people are invisible. They vanish. Newspapers don’t even have labour journalists any more. 

Ford added: "It's not just white liberals - it's those who have become collaborators with this corporate system. In every struggle for independence of colonialist power, we have to kill more fellow African-Americans in order to get to the enemy."

Stein: "It's our job, as privileged white people who have enormous benefits from the system, to support the community and struggle in their fights as they define them. They’re already organizing; our job is to help. There have been victories in indigenous land and treaty rights. The support of environmental communities is critical to those victories. This is a model to support."

Hedges: "In the prisons, they are so far ahead of us politically. They don’t think anybody’s going to overcome the lobbyists. They are organizing a mass prison strike. It’s going on right now across the country. It started in Alabama. I will be cross-country on September 9th, the anniversary of Attica. In system of neo-slavery, no prison runs without prison labour. Don’t go to the state house or the capital to protest, go to the prison house to show us you’re there. These people have so much courage. They broke their strike in Alabama by refusing to feed them. They are a highly conscious politically oppressed group who are rising up with integrity to fight back, and we have to stand with them."

Thompson: "We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. We need to re-invigorate the discussion the Panthers started. They already created a 10-point program."

Ford: "We need to decolonize Puerto Rico and forgive the debts."

Stein: "We need to liberate the public airways. The president could instruct federal communication to stop the privatization of airways. When the FCC looked at privatizing internet, there was a social movement that stopped it.

Commenter: "We need to be willing to be under the leadership of The African People's Socialist Party and go to the prisons. It's the only way to be in touch in a vital, emotional way or else it gets too abstract.  A lot of things we debate are moot.  39,000 strikers are protesting a destructive company that gets 1.8 million per month in a template that's the demise of the working class. They shipped call centres to Trinidad.

Hedges: "Workers are reduced to serfs across the board. The problem is multifaceted. It's partly the fault of the unions who made concessions to corporations. But this is what’s going to happen to all of us  It's a reconfiguration of the economy to neo-feudalism with prisons that feed like sharks off them, where a phone call home costs 5 times the actual costs, and prisoners have to pay from their $28/month wages."

Stein: "The media calls Verizon strikers greedy, but it's not just about wages. They're demonized because they're asking for more than living wage. We're moving to a system in which a poverty wage is acceptable; it's important to be vocal to support the strike."

Ford: "It is all about the cost of labour and the race to the bottom driven by the tremendous wage differentials in the world."

Stein: "We need social movements. They are the engine of social change. Political parties are able to unite social coalitions. A real political party is an effort to bring people together under a common agenda. There’s not a conflict between working for electoral parties and social parties."

Hedges: "The next trade agreement will destroy the post office. It says that no government enterprise can exist unless corporations can compete with them. It's the same reason hedge funds run charter schools. Marx explained that in late stages of capitalism, as you disenfranchise the country, you disembowel the state structures in order to make profits."


To sum it up: We have the ability to make this change. It feels like there are a lot of issues to address, but there's really just one: the neo-liberal agenda to profit off the back of the people. And it's being promoted by the Democrats as much as the Republicans. We need to continue to have candidates run that come out of the movement. And we actually have to vote for them.

  

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

O Canada. Because it's 2016.

For the 13th time since 1980, the House of Commons is debating changing the national anthem. The first 12 tries were defeated, but this time it might actually pass. The bill just proposes to change "all thy sons" to "all of us."

I think, while we're there, we should go whole hog on this and get rid of "native home" since most of us immigrated here, and get rid of any reference to God to acknowledge we're multi-faith and secular.

AND, if we really want to be inclusive, and since kids in school learn a version of the song that's half French, it would be cool to have a few lines in Ojibwe or Cree. Imagine if the last two lines were in whatever indigenous language is most spoken in each region. So if you travel across Canada to sporting events or visiting schools, you'd hear the various anthem lines particular to each area. It means MORE JOBS for translators, singers, recording studios... to get all those recordings packaged and sent to schools for their morning announcements. Imagine all three founding nations represented in our anthem.

I discussed it with my students and got a variety of responses.  The dominant arguments of my most vocal grade tens went something like this:
"This is all a stupid thing to try to do. People are too sensitive. What's the big deal about "thy sons" anyway? It'll be too complicated if we change it and have to learn a new one. It's just a stupid song. Who cares?"
My grade elevens were all about the changes.

Firstly, if you don't care about the song, then stay out of the way while people debate this.

I think the lyrics of a song that represents our country are very important. Our anthem tells people a bit about who we are and what we think is important. And the anthem links all Canadians, so it should avoid any word choices that clearly exclude anyone.

It might be a chore to learn some new words, but you can always just listen while others sing. The people who will be most affected are children in grade school who actually sing it every day. I think they can cope with a few minor word changes and a couple lines in some cool new languages.

I asked my tens, "If instead of saying "all thy sons command," the original* said, "all white people command," would you feel like that should be changed?"

Of course. Everyone has a problem with that one.

We're much better at detecting racism than discrimination in other areas. I agree that people are too sensitive when some suggest we need trigger warnings and safe spaces set up to accommodate anyone potentially offended by a discussion. But this isn't about the anthem upsetting people. It's about working towards making the anthem as inclusive as possible to build a national community. And it's such an easy and visible thing to do.

When they passed this version into law in 1980, they promised to be open to changes in future. I think the future is now. Anything new is difficult and annoying, but soon enough we get used to it. and in just one generation, everyone will know a version that encompasses the men and women from the three distinct nations who got this ball rolling.

I said as much in a letter to the editor, which says the same as above, but in 200 words and with reference to a recent news piece:
I applaud Wynne’s apology, particularly her insistence that, “Ontario is working to provide the resources and space for Indigenous languages, traditions, teachings and governance to thrive.” The timing is perfect for discussion of a different issue. 
On Monday, the Commons debated a bill to change the lyrics of Canada's national anthem to replace “all thy sons” with “all of us.” Since it’s beyond 2015, and we’re finally beginning to work towards a more inclusive nation, maybe it’s time to make our anthem more fully represent Canada. 
Replacing “thy sons” is a start. We could also consider Canadians who aren’t native and even those who don’t address God in moments of patriotism. 
To demonstrate further inclusion, school children already learn a version that is partly in French. I propose, in light of Wynne’s offer of “space for Indigenous languages to thrive,” that it would be a profound, symbolic action if we included a couple words of the languages of the actual native land when we sing en masse (in addition to “Canada,” of course). Then our three founding nations can be represented in our nation’s anthem. 
Yes, change is difficult. But learning a few new words in a song is a small price to pay for the true north.

* The original 1880 version didn't even say "thy sons command"; it said, "thou dost in us command." See that first link for the history of the song.





Sunday, May 29, 2016

My Fiftieth Year

How pivotal is that number? It seemed huge on the way in, and still lingers on the way out.

A year ago (way back here), I lived with my three kids, and now I just have one left at home. The house is quieter and cleaner, and I talk to the older two about as much thanks to texting. With one in the attic and the other in the basement, I admit we used to text each other within our home. I'm not really sure why I'm sheepish about it; it's damn handy. Now our face-to-face time is limited, so I think we pay more attention to one another when we're together. And they're still close enough to get me to hang pictures for them. This is definitely a time of life of changes for anyone with a family. Spending twenty-plus years with people who then move on can be a bit disorienting.

I've written some stuff this year, but not as much as I would have liked. Collaborating on a book was a great experience! I rarely get writerly feedback on articles or blogposts. I spent far too much time distracted by elections this year. I'm not sure how much they matter. There was scant time for a brief sigh of relief before I started questioning Trudeau's leadership. Notley seems owned by corporations, and I don't think JT's off leash either. I think over time I'll care less, but right now I still operate under the illusion that my letters and marches can possibly make a difference. It gives me something to do.

After years and years of begging friends to take up long-distance cycling with me, I finally got brave enough to go out on my own. I still haven't been hit by a car or attacked or stranded too far from home to walk. It's such a commonplace thing to say, but I really regret all the time I spent unsure and fearful. I regret all the bike trips I could have taken but didn't because I couldn't find someone willing to come with. One benefit of growing older is that people don't look down on me when I cycler slower than they expected. The expectations diminish to the point that getting out there at all gets you kudos.

I'm falling apart a bit. A year ago it was only my knees giving me grief. Now I've got arthritis in my toes and have been saved by orthotics. I miss walking in bare feet though. A few years back, I dislocated my pinky finger. Months later it still hurt, and my doctor said, "Yup, everything takes longer to heal now." The little aches and pains make me think of this...




My feminine bits are turning on me, and a few procedures will be in order. Nothing too frightening, but life-altering none-the-less. It kinda makes me wish I were married but only for utilitarian reasons, which isn't enough for me to regret never marrying. Drinking buddies aren't really up for hanging out during one boring, sober appointment after another. They have spouses and families to take care of and lives to live on a path that doesn't include me. Appointment buddies require someone who's gotten in a share of good times already, and who's had some prior care-taking give and take with you to establish the requisite temperament. It helps if they've seen you at your worst already, maybe even helped you out of your clothes on more auspicious occasions. I'm not ready to lean on my kids for that kind of care yet.

This too shall pass.

I always found it unsavoury when people suggested I need to find me a good man because I'll want someone to take care of me later. Practically speaking: men tend to die first, so I'd likely end up taking care of him. And morally speaking: yuck. That is to treat someone as a mere means to an end. Kant would shake his sickly old head at me, and I can't have that. It's not right to snag a partner just for financial gain or to have someone hang on your arm or to get laid or to get some hospice care. They have to have a draw that makes you want to do right by them, makes you want to be a better person for them, makes you want to share your life with them. Maybe my parents' idyllic marriage just ruined me for anyone. I feel like it's too late at this point, but life's full of surprises.

This has nothing to do with mid-life, but this year, I was struck cold by the number of colleagues and students we're losing to suicides. Possibly up to five educators in our board took their own lives in an 18-month period (see here after the passage).  It took the death of seven indigenous teenagers in Thunder Bay within a ten-year period to spark a national inquest, but we're not talking about these local "sudden deaths" as if there could be any pattern. They're each seen as isolated events. Nobody's mentioned contagion effects or anomie or changing relationships in schools. Maybe it's just as well. But maybe we need a more personal inquest of our own. I'm not sure this one will go away quietly. I'm much more accepting of death than earlier in life, but these are different.

But actually most impactful this year, something that has changed my thinking and outlook profoundly, was being forced to teach Native Studies. I had no idea I was so ignorant. I didn't want to teach it because I knew so little. Now that I know, there's no turning away from it all. I'll be spending time over the next month developing easy-to-teach curriculum that could be incorporated in other specific class, and working on convincing other teachers to teach about all of Canada in any Canadian-linked courses. This shouldn't be a token course for a few interested kids; it should be general knowledge necessary to graduate high-school! I love that there's still so much to learn. It's easy to get settled in with our current level of knowledge, so it's important to shake that up a bit.

It's useful from time to time to be reminded of the gaps in my education, of the tenuous nature of our lives, of my strengths like a burgeoning courage and tenacity, and of my weaknesses.

There will be time...

Thursday, May 26, 2016

On bell hooks


I came across a bell hooks essay about writing with passion, as a "space of transgression," which I like very much. And then PEL (The Partially Examined Life - a panel of four guys who talk about different philosophy texts each week, with special guest Myisha Cherry) had a couple podcasts about her views on racism and sexism, which fit well with some thoughts I've been dwelling on in my Indigenous Studies class. But the shaky bridge to get my students actually reading her, might just be her piece on Beyoncé in which she says, right out loud,
"I think it's fantasy that we can recoup the violating image and use it. I used to get so tired of people quoting Audre Lorde, the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house, but that was exactly what she meant, that you are not going to destroy this imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy by creating your own version of it. Even if it serves you to make lots and lots of money. [Her body stands for] desire fulfilled, that is, wealth, fame, celebrity, all the things that so many people in our culture are lusting for. . . . all of those things that are at the heart of imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy. . . . I say to my students: Decolonize. But there's also that price for decolonization. You're not gonna have the wealth. . . . part of what has to happen for us to be free is that we have to create our own standards of how to live."
They might not agree, but they might listen just enough to be able to defend their idol. (Listen to the whole discussion here - that bit starts about 30 minutes in.)

There's a cost to liberation, so it's a struggle to get people to actively let go of that path completely. We keep one foot in it, trying to get the best of both worlds, but it doesn't work.  People just "flip the hate channel to the voyeur channel, but nothing is really changing."

We are more messed up than we realize. Our problems are deeper. We don't see our own racism and sexism. Images and representation in media are vital to changing how we see ourselves. The PEL podcasts talked about the study on children who, whether black or white, thought a black doll was ugly and wouldn't play with it. That conversation reminded me of the movie Smoke Signals when characters struggled to figure out what it looks like to be Indigenous, to be who they are, and how not to disparage their own people.




Other things I heard in the PEL podcast (partially quoted or paraphrased but filtered through my own thoughts on the topics as they relate to my class):

On Taking Care of Oppressors:

It's a strategy of some groups to point out that we're all victimized by the structure of oppression. White males are also harmed. To a point, it can be a way to get the dominant class involved in the struggle or at least convince them to stop opposing it. John Ralston Saul does this somewhat in his books about Indigenous Canadians. He's got a we're all in this together stance that does affect me on a different level. It's no longer an Indigenous issue; it's a Canadian issue. And I'm not just the bad guy as someone who comes from a long line of colonists.  I'm a fellow Canadian also affected by the discrimination taking place on our collective land.

But bell hooks is wary of this. It's not right to change out of self interest. According to hooks, this deflects the problem in a way that we end up pitying the oppressor for their unfortunate plight.  But their situation is nowhere near as horrible as anyone who's lived through slavery or residential schools. It can be a problem if concern over the dominant class makes us forget how horribly the oppressed are treated. It's a problem if it makes us ignore the profoundly victimized when we have to concern ourselves with the mildly victimized as well. The oppressor is also a victim, but people are victimized in different ways, and some also benefit. Those who have something to gain from the process have little incentive to overthrow it regardless the guilt and shame they might suffer. Louis gets it...





On the Decolonization Process:

hooks explains that recovering after the colonialist experience isn't just a matter of going back to what was. It's too late for that. It's not a surgical removal of an event. That's not possible. After any trauma, we can't go back to the way things were. We have to accept and then get beyond that part that is in us now, part of us.  That's true of the oppressed and the oppressor.

This is a difficult point for me to get my head around - not that it is, but how to sit with it. After my class watched Smoke Signals, we talked about the betwixt and between stage of many indigenous who have lost the skills of a traditional life, but reject further assimilation to modern life as well. It's curious to me what gets rejected and what's kept. They can no longer sustain themselves from the land, getting their own food and building their own homes, but can't afford the outrageous prices for food or lumber either. As an outsider, I see the solution to their plight in tools of the dominant class: formal education, indoor plumbing, stocked grocery stores. But if we reject assimilation models, then what makes these acceptable? Or are ties to tradition purely symbols and rituals at this point?

Or is it in their philosophy, which, from scant readings to this point, I can best understand through my prior knowledge of Taoism. It's a difficult philosophy to maintain surrounded by a consumerist culture, which helps clarify the important of staying put in more isolated communities. But then the costs of food and lumber, not to mention the many social services we take for granted in the city, will never be on par for such tiny communities. When many bands have fewer than 500 people and remote locations, to what extent can we offer functioning hospitals and universities? It's a conundrum.

hooks says decolonization may take place at the individual level at first, but to be fully decolonized, the entire system must be overthrown. It requires a revolutionary action, not just an internal psychological stance. We can't just self-emancipate without emancipation of all others. For this to happen collectively, we need narratives of individuals who have 'self-actualized'. [In the PEL panel, they waver between terms like 'self-actualize' and 'authenticity' but admit that none of those terms are actually used by bell.] We need narratives for people to see how it's done: role models, opportunities.

When you're oppressed, you start to see yourself as the other. Many philosophers were mentioned throughout this discussion, but de Beauvoir never came up even though she wrote about this concept extensively. The whole role of domination (patriarchy, imperialism, capitalism...) is refusal. Their mode of action was one group oppressing another for their own advantage while convincing the others it's for their own good. According to hooks, to be radical and revolutionary, we have to counter competition with love.

In order for any of us to be radical, we need a support group, people who will love us no matter how radical we get. We need role models of survival, and we need to accept a great diversity of true expressions. We should avoid the trope of the struggling black woman rising up by accepting that some didn't have it that hard, AND that the expression of a different path doesn't negate the experiences of those who struggled because it suggests we can only bond if we all tell the same story of victimization. Any group naturally tries to develop norms as a means of solidifying the group, of anchoring their identity, but those norms can then get imposed on others in the group until real experiences are shut down. We must be careful of this because it's no longer a support group at this point. She's critical of the way political ends force a dismissal of different kinds of experiences within a group - it dulls the edges of activism. We can only facilitate healing if we're strong enough to acknowledge and listen to different voices, to let others be what they are, and to listen with respect.

We still need some common narrative about the oppression, a counter-narrative to the dominant myths perpetrated, but we also need room to become individual people. Choice is a luxury of the empowered. To be able to become fully 'actualized,' we each need the opportunity to explore, to have the world opened up to us. If we're not working collectively to overthrown colonization paradigms, then we're not creating the space necessary for people to evolve.

There's a problem with the colonized and oppressed mistaking their own dominator acts as a radical departure from domination. Some people working to break free from the model end up copying it because we're all so immersed in it, but not everything we do is a free and authentic act. We need spiritual leaders (assuming we can figure out who they are) who are ahead of us on the path to help distinguish whether or not our acts are informed by colonization. For instance, genital mutilation is an act of oppression even if women choose to have it done. It clarifies the extent to which we're internalized oppressor norms anytime we willingly act like a slave or servant. We can only decipher what's authentic through sustained engagement with ourselves. It's complicated.


On Intersectionality:

Her books came out before the term existed, but she talks about the problem with talking about racism and sexism as different. Focusing on one can exclude attention to the other. We won't be fully covered if we have two movements; we need to be liberated from both to make concrete political changes.

We need to be aware of and informed by the intersection of multiple identities that affect how we're treated. We need to recognize different types of oppression in the work we do. For instance, Black Lives Matter was started by two lesbian women, but the focus ended up on police brutality of black men. Women were erased in those narratives even though they are also oppressed by the police. Cherry spoke about the a man speaking at a rally. He was the brother of a woman who had been killed by police, and he was encouraged to just talk about Trayvon Martin, not his own sister. It was as if discussing black women would distract from the movement.

In class we discussed the many protests taken on by indigenous peoples over land rights and environmental destruction. My students noticed parallels with the Black Lives Matter movement, except they hadn't previously heard of the many indigenous protests currently happening in their own country. We need to open spaces for indigenous discrimination to be part of the intersectionality we've just begun to honour.

The thing we're all pushing for should allow for multiple narratives, but we live in a soundbite world. Chomsky has been on about this for decades. We can't give the whole story when we're only allowed to speak in simple, easily accepted terms within a consistent narrative. We have work to do to stop ourselves from perpetuating a dominator ideology, and to continue to look at our assumptions about people based on sex, race, sexuality, ability...  It's not just an act of cognition but a political challenge, a call to action.

I'm still not sure what the path looks like yet, but just that we have to start heading in that direction.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Fractured Land

I went to see this at the Perimeter Institute last night, and was so excited to meet the star of it, Caleb Behn, Eh-Cho Dene and Dunne-Za hunter, fisher, activist, and lawyer. Unfortunately, he cancelled. It was disappointing, but the film made it clear that he's a seriously busy guy! It was worth going to see the film anyway.



It's a perfect film for my Native Studies class. It brings in the notion of a split identity, of the relationship with the environment, the need to regain legal control over the areas being destroyed, and the challenge of putting it all together.

Behn's parents are polar opposites: his dad endured the residential school system and spoke at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and his mom is the highest ranking female executive at an oil and gas company. He's trying to cope with a system that destroyed his people, and she's trying to change the system from within. They divorced when Behn was ten, which he refers to as the first great break in his life.

The film lets us dwell on some beautiful scenery juxtaposed with concerns about checking game for contamination before eating it and the quickly dwindling number of animals to hunt. Behn lives in Northeastern B.C., land covered by Treaty 8, and the third largest hydrocarbon deposit in BC. It took 88 years to turn the pristine land into an industrial wasteland. The area is rife with cancers and birth defects.

The bulk of the film is about the treaty obligation required of any corporation or government entity to consult with Indigenous peoples on any action that could impede their rights. But they reveal that most of the consultations were for show, a quick by-the-way long after all the paperwork was completed with little in the way of real information provided to allow impacted groups to make an informed decision. Behn's grandfather commented that the government "makes the words dance on paper."

At this point one gets the sense that it's all so much about money and greed. The energy corporations rubber stamp the consultation and, in one historic day, they were able to make $476,000,000. Fracking is facilitating a new land rush. Behn relates, "They came for the trees, then the gold, the fur, the children, the oil, and now the gas." The government propaganda ads suggest that washing a car near the roadway is worse for the groundwater than pumping chemicals and fresh water down 2.5 km for the shale gas, leaving behind tailing ponds that end up back in the water system. The oil and gas company activities are regulated by their own industry. And LNG (Liquified Natural Gas) is being targeted for international markets in Asia. It's not about the jobs; it's about the fortunes they'll make. The attitude is one of getting not just what we need to survive, but as much as we possibly can - in the words of Rich Coleman, "to win this race before the rest of the world." Except the faster we extract, the faster we destroy our own land.

The film brought in many voices to add to Behn's experiences. Hydrologist Gilles Wendling explained that nobody has clearly examined exactly where the waste water goes. Dr. Robert Howarth, Professor of Ecology and Environmental Biology at Cornell warned that LNG emissions will soon rival the tar sands. An industry spokesperson from CAPP suggested that gas below the earth is a gift from the creator, and she explained that the industry will shut down a fracking site in a minute if there's any problems - except they never have despite all the many concerns raised. If they destroy the headwaters of the Tahltan River, they will destroy everything downstream.

Little Tahltan River

Behn had only positive things to say about the good heart of the people working on the ground in the industry. It reminded me of Julia Butterfly Hill, two years up a tree to save it from logging, explaining how fond she grew of the loggers, reminding us that we need to change the system, not demonize the players:




But many of the workers on fracking sites are itinerant who move on after 4-6 weeks to another of the 28,000 wells in B.C. The landscape is disappearing under the weight of one proposal after another, a death by 1,000 cuts.

Behn was able to speak at a moratorium on fracking and realized, "If we get this dialogue wrong, things will be very very dangerous in our territory." His speech was well-received, but then they moved on to the next item on the agenda. "There's so much more to politics than speeches and young people raising their voices." It's hard to get our heads around the slippery inner workings of the system.

The film also raised some interesting psychological issues about suffering, authenticity, and the burden of fame. Behn was born with a cleft palate, and he believes it made him more empathetic towards others. I've often commented to classes about the number of famous activists who were raised with some type of early hardship. Behn suggests it's good to have suffered: "Sometimes pain can be good." Personal pain can open our hearts to others in a way that might not be reached if we've never been a little cracked. Behn grapples with his own authenticity as he recognizes the benefits he's had from having a mom in this lucrative industry. And some of the Indigenous protesters insist that "you can't tear down the master's house with the master's tools" because he has a law degree from their universities. There's a split between the old traditions and modern day culture that's hard to bridge. And Behn is startlingly honest discussing his new fame as an activist, how girls made themselves available and he didn't always act honourably: "Relationships are the clearest expression of my failures as a man." The film did a brilliant job of getting us to really understand the complex experience of fractured people, of all of us.

I didn't leave the film feeling any better about the world, but I felt less alone in the fight, and really really lazy for the pittance I offer compared to the men and women on the front lines.


Saturday, April 9, 2016

On Pipelines - Line 9 and More

After Laxer spoke of his book on the tar sands last Wednesday, Myeengun Henry spoke. He's an Elder and the Aboriginal Services Manager at Conestoga College. His focus was on pipelines. He spoke of issues that I had heard about and kind of understood, but I admit I haven't paid close enough attention to be able to keep all the pipelines straight even though it's clear they can break and leak and wreak havoc on the soil and water. Henry brought a clarity and urgency to the issue. It's time I wrap my head around it all.

While Indigenous people were recovering from residential schools, the land was being divided by pipelines. They had to get back to their traditional teachings about protecting the land.

The People Versus Enbridge on Facebook 
Wampum
They went to the National Energy Board to oppose Enbridge and the potential destructions they could cause. Pipelines have a 40-year life expectancy. The pipeline that Enbridge is using on line 9 is 40 years old, and now they want to change the flow and increase the capacity. It's going to break.

We must refuse to stand and watch it happen. So some of them took it into their own hand to go to Enbridge in Calgary. The Chippewa of the Thames First Nation talked about sharing resources and offered a two row Wampum to the CEOs. It looked something like the photo here. The two lines represent the two nations working parallel to each other. The three sections represent love, peace, and respect. And the fact that it's unfinished at the ends, illustrates that the relationship has no end.

Then the CEOs told them that the resources don't belong to the Indigenous people, and they presented them with a broken piece of pipeline.

It was clear that conversation wasn't going to bridge the gap, so they decided to take on the legal challenge.

Section 35 of the Constitution Act of 1982 says there's a duty to consult any indigenous people on land that could be adversely affected by corporate activity. That consultation never took place. So they took it to a Federal Court of Appeals, but they lost the case. There were three judges; two said no, and one dissented.

They wanted to take it to the Supreme Court, but if they lost, they'd have to pay Enbridge's court costs. Henry feels strongly that money shouldn't be a deciding factor in a Supreme Court challenge. These court cases should be about the cost to children. People shouldn't have to prove their rights in a court of law; they should just have to show that their rights were violated for the injustice to be corrected.

BC First Nations were able to raise $200,000 in four months to fight the Northern Gateway a couple years ago.

The Chippewas started a gofundme site (DONATE HERE) and decided to go for it despite the costs. And they put Hydro One and Union Gas on notice too!

The date for the appeal to begin is November 30th 2016. Enbridge started flowing oil through line 9 last December 2015. Fingers crossed there are no leaks before it can be shut down.

Henry said,
Think back before we discovered Columbus. People understood our Mother the Earth is the most important aspect of life, and it needs to be honoured and cherished. If we dishonour her, it spoils the water and air and life ends. We need to come together on this. Nature will take all of us. We need a more unified country based on understanding Aboriginal knowledge in order to grow together.

Some pipelines in the news (outline of all Enbridge's pipelines here):

* Line 9 - 800 km from Sarnia to Montreal; it crosses tributaries flowing into Lake Ontario, and crosses the Ottawa River; it passes through 99 towns and 14 Indigenous communities in Ontario and Quebec; it has 12961 structural weaknesses and several design deficiencies along its length.

Line 7 - from Sarnia to Hamilton, side-by-side with line 9 - This one is 60 years old and carrying 180,000 barrels/day. It was approved by the National Energy Board in November. This one's falling under the radar.

Northern Gateway - 525,000 barrels/day from the tar sands to Kitimat BC, 1,177 kms, then to tankers to go across the Pacific Ocean. Approved by Harper in June 2014, but Trudeau visited in August 2014 and said it would be shut down if he became PM. In November 2015, he banned oil tanker traffic in the Pacific, effectively shelving the pipeline.

* Keystone XL - 1,900 km from Alberta to Nebraska (just phase IV of the whole Keystone project - the other three phases have been completed). Rejected by Obama in November, 2015 after mass protests in Washington.


Leaks and spills and explosion, oh my! 

Here's just a few to remind you of the potential for disaster. As pipelines are aging, leaks are becoming more frequent. Pipeline incidents in Canada have doubled in the past decade often citing corrosion as a culprit, yet replacing old pipes isn't in the picture:
"More than four reportable releases happened for every 10,000 kilometres in 2000, or 18 incidents in total, according to NEB data. By 2011, that rate had risen to 13 per 10,000 kilometres, or 94 incidents.
This could be your street!
Apr. 2016 - Keystone leak in South Dakota, but it will be up and running again in no time!
2015 - Drumheller, Alberta - TransCanada pipeline leaks into agricultural land
2015 - NuVista pipeline spills in the Hay Lake First Nation
2015 - Nexen pipeline in Alberta - 5 million litres - one of the worst spills ever
2014 - Otterburne, Manitoba pipeline explosion
2014 - 70,000 litres spilled near Slave Lake
2014 - Oneok's Viking Gas transmission was ruptured and exploded in a 100' fireball
2013 - Exxon Pegasus tar sands spill into an Arkansas neighbourhood, and they didn't have to pay into the cleanup fund
2012 - Elk Point, Alberta had a leak of almost a quarter of a million litres
2012 - Half a million litres leaked into a central Alberta river system, Red Deer River
2011 - Peace River, Alberta - 4.5 million litres of crude leaked near the Indigenous community of Little Buffalo
2010 - Bronte Creek, Oakville - the Trans Northern pipeline leak into creeks, soil, and groundwater
2010 - Line 6B in Michigan - spilled millions of litres of bitumen in the Kalamazoo River - bitumen can't be effectively cleaned from a waterway because of its density; it's so far the largest inland oil spill


The Protests:

Line 9 - Ontario First Nations, three activists shut if off in Dec. 2015 in Sarnia, activists shut off a valve in Quebec, Bronte Creek blockade, Waterloo Region against line 9, activists scale a tower to unfurl a banner in Montréal, activists chained themselves to a fence in Montreal, activists walked 700 km to protest, and here's a list of 80 other groups.

And Rachel Thevenard ran the entire length of the pipeline, 800 kms, IN WINTER, to raise awareness, and I hate to say I completely missed it. I know all about Clara Hughes biking for mental illness, but somehow missed any news about someone from my hometown running for an environmental cause.
"She sighed when asked if she was afraid of hurting herself. 'I will literally wheelchair against Line 9 if I have to. This pipeline has to be stopped.'"

Judy Gelfand, the federal environment commissioner, found in January 2016 that the National Energy Board is failing to adequately track whether pipeline companies are complying with conditions set out when projects are approved. The NEB's systems are "outdated or inaccurate."

Line 7 - Activists tamper with valves near Cambridge

Stand (formerly Forest Ethics) from Clayoquot Sound convinced Tim Hortons to refuse to advertise for Enbridge. Ezra Levant started a boycott Tim's site in response.


And the Greatest Irony Award goes to...

Enbridge for sponsoring a Ride to Conquer Cancer while mutated fish are developing near the tar sands!




ETA: And Notley's standing firmly in support of national pipelines. Even the NDP are willing to take a risk like this at the expense of our country and people:
"I'm asking you to leave here more persuaded than perhaps some of us have been, that it is possible for Canada to have a forest industry, to have an agriculture industry, a mining industry, and yes, an energy industry, while being world leaders on the environment."
I'm not remotely persuaded.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Cast Off Discouragement!

I just watched Gordon Laxer give a talk on his newest book, After the Sands. I haven't read the book yet, but here are my notes from his speech. This is more or less paraphrased with reasonable accuracy (and links!).

I had never heard of Laxer before, but he was the first chair of the Waffle movement in Toronto in 1969 (I'm guessing he's related to James), and he founded the Parkland Institute for education and research for the common good in 1996. In between, he's a Poli Sci prof and writer. He told us that the Paris Climate Accord had some laudable goals, but it left each country to its own to reach those targets. Canada doesn't have much of a plan, so this book is an answer to that, a bold (that word was said a few too many times) path towards a low-carbon future. We have to change our thinking with a new optimism that we can take action that will develop a socially just, sustainable, low-carbon society within two decades. As Francis Moore Lappe said, "It is too late to prevent suffering. Terrible suffering is already with us. But it is not too late for life."



Indigenous Partnerships

I seemed to have picked the right time to venture into teaching an Aboriginal Studies course. It feels like we're at a turning point with our relationships and connections in Canada, and teaching has forced me to learn our history at an accelerated rate. It's embarrassing, of course, that I knew so little before - and still - but I think that will change for the next generation. Things are shifting.

Laxer explained that no environmental victory won in the last thirty years was without indigenous help and leadership. First Nation land claims have become pivotal in environmental battles. Honouring indigenous rights is Canada's best chance to alter the fate of the planet. We need to adopt the worldview of honouring the land we live on instead of using it up for all it's worth.





Environmentally, Trudeau and Notley are Harper Redux (so far)

In Paris, Trudeau assured the world that "Canada is back, my friends," but then he started following Harper's old targets to reduce GHGs to 524 MT by 2030 at a rate of 1.7 MT/year.  For a comparison, both the US and EU plan to reduce emissions by 2.8 MT/year.

Rachel Notley announced her plan for Alberta while standing side by side with CEOs, and they all had big smiles on their faces. It's because Notley's reduction plan targets emissions from power generation and transportation, which together make up 28% of Canada's GHGs. She allowed the tar sands to continue to raise emissions, but the production of oil and gas make up a whopping 45% of GHGs. If the sands are allowed to continue, they'll cancel out all other efforts to reduce. Harper was in the pockets of big oil, and Notley isn't, but she's still intimidated by them, so she's willing to shill for oil. Unfortunately, the message is more effective coming from Notley. Too many environmentalists have relaxed, assured by her lefty stance. By 2030, if the sands continue, they will produce 56% of Canada's GHG emissions.

As an MP, Trudeau voted to pass Jack Layton's carefully drafted bill to cut emissions by 80% by 2050, which was unfortunately stopped by the Harper-stacked Senate. But it was influential enough to be adopted by the G8 in 2009. Notley's plan will gut that dream.

Laxer argues that we have to shut down the tar sands completely within fifteen years.


Energy is a Human Right

We can't let price determine who gets access to energy or the rich will exploit their position. A carbon tax barely affects the wealthy, but can be disastrous for the poor. The richest 10% cause 50% of the emissions, so we need to affect the right people. (However, the richest 10% includes anyone who makes over $25,000 per year, which might not be what you just pictured.) We need to make sure all of Canada is "energy secure." We can do this by using our own energy instead of exporting oil and gas to the US, and then importing 40% of the oil we use. The US has made it clear that if they have a shortage, they'll cut off Canada in a minute. We can't be dependent on others for our own energy. Currently we have no strategic petrol reserves; we've signed away our own resources. We have to reverse these decisions.


The Problems with Pipelines

Pipelines have become controversial due to all the leaks and spills. Conventional oil floats and is relatively easy to skim off the top of water, but bitumen from the tar sands is more dense, and it sinks. It's very difficult to get it out of the water system once it's in there.

Pipelines have run roughshod all over Native lands. "It's not a Native thing; it's a 'protect the Earth' thing." We all should want clean drinking water, so we should all be fighting to stop the pipelines. Because it's too costly to ship by rail, if we can stop pipelines, we can shut down the tar sands.

In the 1950s, pipelines ran east and west to supply all of Canada. But then in the 80s, under NAFTA, they started running north to south, and we started exporting 70% of our oil to the US. In the Energy Proportionality Clause, it says Canada must export the same percentage it had exported in the three years previous to the clause being involked, even if we're running short. Mexico refused to accept that clause, and they got an exemption. But Canada has to give the US first rights.


But then in 2011, Obama stopped the Keystone pipeline due in part to massive protests from US citizens, which makes it less likely that the proportionality clause will be invoked.

We need to ramp up renewable energy sources, phase out energy exports and exports of natural gas. We only have a twelve year supply of natural gas and BC is planning to export it. Alberta is using natural gas to turn bitumen into usable oil. "That's like turning gold into lead for export." We need to phase out electricity exports too. Hydro supplies 60% of our electricity.

We have our own usable energy, particularly from BC, Manitoba, Quebec, and Newfoundland. BC can supply Alberta; Manitoba can supply Saskatchewan; Quebec can supply Ontario (and get Ontario off nuclear); and Newfoundland can supply all of the Maritimes, but it has to get out of the exporting game. I'm hoping his book outlines how to do this; he didn't get into the logistics in his talk.


Political Will

We have the technology today to live without the tar sands, but we just need the political will and a new mindset. The colonialists came and dug up resources here to export them for cash, and we have to get away from that pattern of behaviour.

We're 9th highest GHG emitters in the world, producing twice as much as Norway and three times as much as Sweden per capita, and they're just as northerly as we are. Some argue that there's no point doing anything if China's still emitting so much, but in 2015, 100% of new energy production in China was renewables. China spent three times as much on renewables per capita as Canada last year. By 2020, they'll have enough to power homes and industry for 280 million people (200 GW each of wind and solar), and they're closing 1,000 coal mines this year. We're running out of "but look at China" excuses.

The tar sands employs 2.2 million people, many of whom travel from the other end of the country to get there. Last year 40,000 were laid off, and some were able to make the transition into solar and wind construction near their own cities. It's devastating that people lost their jobs, but we should see the lay offs as an opportunity, as the first step in a low-carbon future. There are more jobs created by green construction than by the tar sands. "A unit of carbon saved makes more jobs than a unit of carbon emitted." And then workers can live in their home communities.

We can do this, and it will make us a better society. We're built with the ingenuity to overcome obstacles, but we get sidetracked or discouraged. We must struggle for our lives, for our children and grandchildren, and for all other living things. We have a new world to create; the time to start is now.



Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Panama Papers

From Woodward and Bernstein to Edward Snowden, breaking stories from the 5th Estate are always exciting. This one is the biggest story yet to blow open millions of files linking dirty money to high-powered officials.

After a leak of over 11 million documents compiled from the 1970s to today, and offered up to the Munich paper, Süddeutsche Zeitung, 350 journalists have taken about a year to read, assemble, research, and connect data through one corporation: Mossack Fonseca, a Panama law firm that's helped elite clients to launder money, evade taxes, dodge sanctions.... It's been guarding the data of the word's most powerful people including 240,000 companies, sports organizations, and political leaders.

The first journalists got the ICIJ, Guardian, BBC, and Le Monde involved. They all met in Washington to figure out how to file through all the information and turn it into well researched, verifiable, and readable stories about undisclosed financial transactions, weapons, drugs and pedophilia rings, and offshore tax havens linked to war crimes and other illegal activity around the world.

The 10 minute video at this page explains their process they went through to begin to tell these stories.

But the video below gets at the heart of why the story is so important:



Take a look at "who did what and how"at the official Panama Papers website. Prepare to lose a few days reading through it all. It's the kind of thing you always suspected, but now there's proof of all the connections.

Like this one:




ETA: Here's a good primer on Offshore investments and more on the Panama Papers. And Truthdig has more to say, including an Edward Snowden tweet: "Courage is contagious." And the BBC has a Q&A.

Monday, March 28, 2016

A Reasonable Doubt?

A post wherein I get a little grumpy and swear-y about it all.

What does reasonable doubt look like? Is there really, REALLY, a reasonable doubt that Jian attacked the women who had their lives scrutinized on the stand? With sexual abuse cases, it all hinges on the credibility of the victims. But the problem with our system today is that the standards necessary to determine credibility are far too high. In far too many minds, credibility is questioned in a sexual abuse case if a woman continues to hang out with, have sex with, be attracted to, or even love their assailant. The legal system must acknowledge and contend with this insidious nature of abuse that places wounded women back in the arms of their abusers. It just is. There's no easy way to prevent that very human behaviour, so it must not be seen as an admission of prior deceit.

They had inconsistencies in a story about an even that happened over a decade ago, and they can't remember how long his hands were around their necks or the colour of a car. Our memory for details are sketchy over time, but our memory for a major event - not so much. Withholding e-mails can be understood, so plainly, as either forgetting about a note sent so long ago or, if intent to withhold can be proven, then a clear acknowledgement that in our fucked-up system, sex after an attack appears to nullify any claims of damage. That has to change. Immediately.

In a famous experiment, dogs were put in a compartment and trained to jump a barrier when given an electric shock. After one or two tries, the dogs jumped the barrier immediately after being put in the compartment even when no shock was given. BUT some dogs were restrained the first time and not able to jump the barrier. They had to tolerate the shock without being able to escape. When they were unharnessed, they still didn't jump the barrier, but just stayed there, tolerating the pain.

"Seligman found that it took many experiences (up to 200) of being forcibly dragged across from the shock compartment to the safe compartment for them to rediscover that responding could bring relief and thus to break out of the learned helplessness syndrome." 
Up to 200 times after just one inescapable experience! We are hard-wired to stay put, to hunker down and tolerate abuse after just one bad experience. That's how we survive. When dogs are beaten, they often follow their abuser around even if there are kinder family members to hang out with. We align ourselves with the strongest in the pack, and an abuser can fit the bill. These are basic animal behaviours that are difficult to overcome despite our big brains, even for the best and brightest among us.

It's clearly not entirely a matter of victims being too polite, but of a built-in animal nature to cope with pain rather than act on it if there's no clear escape. And there IS no clear escape if calling the cops ruins your own life and reputation and offers little hope for a conviction.

The parliament site, Hill Notes discusses rates of "unfounding":
"Among seven Ontario police forces, 2% to 34% of complaints of sexual assault were considered unfounded. No matter what the percentage, the rates were significantly higher for sexual assaults than for other crimes in the six forces for which comparative data were available. Studies have shown that victims may be seen as less credible in situations that do not reflect the stereotypical image of sexual assault as a violent act perpetrated by a stranger on a “virtuous” woman who vigorously resisted. . . . In some investigative manuals, for example, the criteria to be considered in detecting a false report include a request to speak to a female officer. . . . 
There are various factors at play [in the low conviction rate], including reliance on myths and stereotypes to discourage the complainant from testifying in court and to attack the credibility of the complainant. Such testimony is generally crucial for the prosecution of a sexual assault case, as there may be no witnesses and little other evidence."
Check that out again: just the act of asking to see a female officer is enough for your claims to be discredited in Ontario. That standard is ridiculously high. This is why people are posting signs saying "I believe survivors." I'm bracing myself for slippery slope arguments to the contrary now - that if we lower it a smidge, then women can get men convicted on bogus charges because maybe he didn't call back right away, and women will TAKE OVER THE WORLD.

Hold the phone. We can lower the standards to a REASONABLE place wherein women feel free to admit to a relationship after an assault without fear that it will not be believed WITHOUT lowering credibility standards to a point that women can charge men willy nilly. It is possible, but it will take some work to change the way we understand one another.

What should determine credibility?

Well, it shouldn't include victim's later behaviour, how they dress, or where they live or work (i.e. a prostitute must be believed as much as a nurse), or minor inconsistencies. If you're telling a story of an assault from years ago, and you sometimes say 'slapped' and other times 'hit', it shouldn't follow that you're lying about the entire thing. The standard I'd like to see is: "Did they say 'yes' to the behaviour and to every escalation of the behaviour?" It will always be complicated to convict, but in a case with many women testifying against one man, it seems clear that they're not jilted, spiteful girlfriends out to get a guy for ditching them. That might happen out there somewhere. I admit it's possible for a woman to be so angry that, twelve years later she's still willing to put her own life on trial to falsely accuse a man of a horrific assault, but it's highly unlikely. When there are numbers of women expressing similar fates, then the likelihood of them all fabricating the same story becomes astronomical, and they Must. Be. Believed.

 In a Facebook comment, Antonia Zerbisias had this to say about these women:
"With sexual assault -- and I don't mean a punch but full on penetration -- victims should know not to shower, brush their teeth, even though the compulsion to do so must be overwhelming. If they don't know that, then there should be posters in schools and universities and workplaces, and PSAs on all the channels. There was no DNA in this case. . . . 
As for strangulation marks or bruises, if there were any, I am amazed that nobody photographed them. But let's just say that the complainants were too traumatized to do so, or there were none, why would they have not shared their stories with their girlfriends or sisters? Or, right. Trauma, shame and I am victim-blaming. . . . . 
Now here we have three youngish women, who would have been in their 20s when these events happened and, for whatever reason had stars in their eyes with JG. . . . but, seriously, who could buy one of the stories: One of them claims he committed a violent act one day and then next day, she invites him over for a friendly handjob? . . . . Women must take some responsibility for their safety. . . . . If you have a creepy feeling, say you have a headache and Uber it home. . . .  
I often wondered why he never asked [my friends] out but now I know. They didn't need him or act like they needed him. Sure, they were starstruck but they had resources and spidey-senses and would have walked if he tried anything. Predators always go for the weak, the ones at the back of the herd. Frankly, I don't think these complainants were too bright. I know that's brutal but a smart woman would have shut up and not written things like we'll get the prick." 

Heres's the thing: It makes us feel safer if we can believe that it won't happen to us since we're smart and resourceful. But that's bullshit. Even smart women are sexually assaulted. Even you. There's lots more to unpack in that comment, but there's one thing I'd like to point out. Having DNA evidence of sexual contact AND having pictures of bruises will not further a case if the accused insists it was consensual BDSM. He didn't claim he didn't have sex with them, but that it was all consensual. All the DNA evidence in the world won't help. And even filming it doesn't seem to make a difference as he willingly showed filmed footage of rough sex to his employers earlier on. All the prosecutor has is the victims' statements. It will always come down to a matter of who we believe, and we must believe more survivors.

Teaching girls how to behave after an attack does fuck-all if rapists aren't convicted because the girls' credibility came in to question because they did that one wrong thing.

Antonia praises the almighty Section 11 of the Charter, and I assume she's referring to part d): "to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law in a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal." Many are celebrating that the law was impartial because it actually ignored the media and protestors. But I content it wasn't impartial because it did not ignore a very warped, patriarchal idea of what it looks like to be abused. Our current legal system doesn't recognize what's necessary to actually stop this illegal activity, and, as a result, rape continues more openly than I've ever seen before. We can watch teens rape girls at parties in videos shared openly. Some guys are not remotely ashamed of this kind of behaviour, and now they have yet another hero to applaud for proving his innocence. Yes, he's technically "not guilty" rather than innocent, but that's not how it will be seen to some, and how it is seen is what will affect future behaviours.

The effect of this trial is terrifying to me because it means abusers everywhere think they can get a pass even with multiple victims. Too many men feel untouchable, and they are all too often correct.

I flagged about twelve different posts and articles I planned to discuss in this post. I just started with Antonia's with the intention of commenting on others, but this is all so frustrating and exhausting and terribly sad. When people argue dispassionately that we must stand behind our legal system, they don't seem to understand that they're praising a system that will allow my daughters and my students and my friends and myself to be attacked with impunity if we can't guarantee being perfect witnesses on the stand. That's. Just. Fucking. Wrong.

And really scary.

I'll leave you with MP Charlie Angus' concern here:


ETA - And these words, dammit:  
"[People celebrating the verdict] are so fucking far from understanding the collective fire engulfing women at the moment, that your point is a moon of pluto. My point is the sun. My point is that since those 21 brave women came forward, our insides have been burning, we swallow nails every day, we question our existence. . . . We’re having a mass breakdown under the weight of a system that so evidently hates us, and you have no fucking idea of the reality of our lives."

We must find our collective way back from this. But it has to be the other side that sees the light on this one. It just has to. We can't live together comfortably if some people believe justice was served.  

ETA also interesting is that Canadian news focused on the problems with the victims, but the rest of the world focused on the problems with the judge and judgment. Curious.