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Mindfulness

18 Nov

I was looking at an issue of Adbusters that makes several mentions of buddhism and wondering about the many ways in which it’s been instrumentalized. Buddhism is largely institutionalized and often conservative. Can we divorce the practice of mindfulness from the historical weight of buddhism and its purport as an institutionalized religion? How can we make the practice ours without either engaging in acts of cultural appropriation or becoming part of a religious system which we do not necessarily support? At this point I cannot provide a definite answer or outline exactly what problems this question entails.

The Occupy movement uses mindfulness meditation in order to practice being present, and that is also the type of practice which I engage in. I want to learn to see things clearly and not be constantly blinded by my own constructions or the reactions of others around me. I want to be able to sit and just sit, to be in a fundamental way that is not defined by my actions. Sometimes your own sense of presence becomes part of larger presence, your sense of self dissolves and integrates your surroundings. This teaches you that you involve more than what lies beneath the surface of your skin, that there is no clear separation between you and the world, and this is an important insight.

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Power and spirit

28 Oct

I watched Heather Rae’s documentary on the Native American artist and activist John Trudell yesterday, and it never fails to inspire me. At some point Trudell says that authority is not the same thing as power. We confuse them when we think that the government or corporations have power, when what they have is only authority. Power is about our relationship to life, or the development of what Trudell calls the “human spirit”.

I’ve been thinking about postmodern theory and the issues that I have with relativism. Trudell seems to believe in the existence of an essence, an irreducible substance that defines spirit. I see postmodernism, on the other hand, as a disembodied theory which tends to obscure human experience. I sometimes wonder what a theory of the sensible world would look like. I like Lisa Brooks’s analysis in The Native Critics Collective’s Reasoning Together when she argues that “the concern to which we should turn is the need for thought that acknowledges its embeddedness in experience, which cultivates and expresses an intimate relationship with the world in which it thinks.”

Crazy Queers

20 Sep

According to the Bisexuality Report, bisexuals have poorer mental health than both hetero and gay/lesbian populations: “Of all the common sexual identity groups, bisexual people most frequently have mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, self harm and suicidality. This has been found both internationally and in the UK specifically, and has been linked to experiences of biphobia and bisexual invisibility.” When I think of the bis I know, this doesn’t come as much of a surprise. It looks like we’ve all been through some sort of therapy, or are currently undertaking treatment, or are badly in need of help (this is especially true for people who come to the group for the first time). I don’t think we’re queer because we’re crazy, nor that we’re crazy because we’re queer. I believe that we are queer AND crazy. It is true that when you sense that you do not belong, you are more likely to suffer, and we are often made to feel like outsiders, not only in society at large but also within the LBTIQ “community”. What is important though is that this creates opportunities for healing. I have already observed that process at the bi group, and in fact have been through it myself. Craziness and queerness may often go together, but they can also be disentangled together, and queerness can, in my view, ensure that healing – by which I do not imply getting rid of craziness, but learning to integrate it  more skillfuly – does not occur at the cost of individuality. Too often, therapy leads us towards conformity and forgetfullness. I became depressed as a teenager because there was too much pressure for me to conform to gender roles, religious prescriptions, and adults’ expectations… It is not therapy so much as queerness that eventually saved me from that, by allowing me to accept myself as I am so that I could just be.

Anarchism Gathering 3 – tensions

17 Aug

In the evening, we crammed ourselves into a small, unventilated room to hear Xavier Renou talk about civil disobedience and violence/non-violence. Given the title of the talk, some participants were clearly expecting a debate on the use of violence versus non-violence in activism, when instead they found Xavier standing next to his Powerpoint slides to advocate the practices of his collective, “Les Désobéissants“. When it became clear that there wasn’t going to be any interaction until the question and answer session scheduled for the end of the talk, some started to protest. In front of the roomful of anarchists asking whether they could participate, Xavier said something like “I am going to explain what I mean by civil disobedience first and then we will have a discussion”. Tension started to mount ostensibly: interruptions manifesting discontent became more frequent, participants who wanted to hear the presentation were irritated, and Xavier became more anxious since the remarks he had to address lengthened his talk, thus leaving less room for discussion at the end. When he did finish, the situation was a mess: some wanted to have the discussion out of doors so that other people could join, others were already voicing their discontent right there. All constructive talk became impossible, and unsurprisingly the few individuals who were heard were white males, because they shouted louder than others and knew how to take control of the space. It was just my idea of the popular stereotype of anarchism as chaos.

Before that, there had been intelligent interventions, but they were not taken into account. Someone suggested that since this talk was clearly not intended as a conversation, and since it had been pointed out that there was no space to discuss violence at the gathering, an assembly could be organized the following day in order to remedy the situation. Another participant asked why this presentation had to be interrupted when many such talks had been allowed to be conducted before. But their words were lost, partly because the space was crowded and consensual decision-making would have required a moderator, and mainly because, as a result, a few individuals managed to impose on the conversation and voluntarily made it escalate. I left soon after that: there was no way I could have made myself heard and I no longer felt safe.

In order to work, anarchism needs flexible structures of organisation, but more than anything it requires that all types of domination be acknowledged and addressed, especially within the movement. According to Uri Gordon in Anarchy Alive!, the movement is not impervious to the dominant structures of power: “patterns of domination in society are imprinted on interactions within it – uncovering dynamics of racist, sexist, ageist or homophobic behaviour” (52). If anarchist politics promote the adequation between the means of the revolution and its desired outcome, then challenging unspoken assumptions of unequality must become a priority. Otherwise we’ll only be fighting one another.

Reimagining queer community

15 Aug

“What makes the so-called queer community so incredibly exclusive that almost nobody ever seems to feel as though they belong? I was […] curious as to what exactly everybody in my group was looking for in the ideal queer community.” Rachel

I read Rachel’s perzine on the train to the anarchist gathering last Saturday, and it helped me reflect on the notion of alternative communities as home over the day. Queer communities, but also other subcultural communities in my experience, nurture the ideas that a deep sense of connection unites their members and regularly use the words “home” or even “family” to describe such ties. However, like Rachel, I have often felt like I wasn’t elligible for this particular kind of belonging, or perhaps that I didn’t know the proper code for entry. I have sometimes attributed this failure to the fact that I am part of a bisexual group which occasionally has trouble being acknowledged as viably “queer” by other LGBTIQ people. However, Rachel questions the very foundations of these assumptions by asking: “If this so-called queer community were accessible, why do all the queer-identified people in my life keep telling me that they don’t feel as though they are a part of it?” Interestingly, she admits that what has helped her develop a sense of validation in such spaces was to write and distribute zines that give her a voice and provide recognition. Further, what I understand from the rest of the zine is that by the same logic, leaving aside identity politics in order to resist assimilation into corporate culture makes us more powerful and leads queer communities out of their self-referential questioning. “Our Pride is NOTE for sale”, she claims, and I take it to mean that fighting side by side brings a stronger sense of solidarity which, perhaps, could redifine queer participants as comrades struggling together rather than as brothers and sisters in an idealized family controlled by corporations or the state.

Anarchism Gathering 2 – anarcha-feminism

14 Aug

One of the first things I did when I arrived was to attend a meeting on anarcha-feminism. Although the programme called it a round table it was really an assembly. I soon understood that there were many problems with misogynistic behaviour at the camp, which is why a women-only meeting had been called to discuss a chart which we hoped to distribute at the gathering to draw attention to pressing gender-related issues. It was a bit of a shock to realize that there is such a thing as macho anarchists (I will come back to this in a future post), but the assembly I took part in was extremely interesting since it was my first direct experience of anarchist decision making. First, translators volunteered for four languages and a moderator was appointed. Then, the chart prepared by a work group was presented and discussed, using a few hand signals in order to facilitate consensual decision making without any interuption. A microphone was passed to women who wished to contribute to the discussion. We were sitting in a half circle, which made it fairly easy to see what was happening among us and react to it. Once it was clear that we were going to print out the chart as it stood, someone volunteered to translate it into Spanish and money was collected to cover the costs. Then, at the request of a group of women who had encountered problems the previous night – and with the support and concern from other women in the group – the discussion turned to their experience. Finally, another meeting was scheduled for the same day as a follow-up.

The organization of the anarcha-feminist meeting was far from perfect: the topic jumped back and forth at times, everyone couldn’t see everyone else, I volunteered to translate into English but never found out for whom I was supposed to translate, and some hands were raised longer than others before receiving a microphone. The meeting was effective but far from seamless. Still, it showed me exactly how a consensual decision is reached in a large group, how everyone can get heard, and how to make the most of the resources at hand. More importantly, I realized how willing I am to take part when I feel truly included. I had only just arrived and didn’t know anyone, and yet I was able not only to sit and understand but to participate actively in the process. It gave me faith that self-management is very effective when it is properly structured, and that everyone can be involved in decision-making.

Anarchism Gathering 1 – inclusiveness

13 Aug

On Saturday I went to St-Imier in the Swiss Jura to take part in the first international anarchism gathering in almost 30 years, which took place in the region where the very first Internationale was hosted by Bakounine in 1872. I wanted to see the principles of anarchism in practice, test some of my ideas on reality, and observe where the movement is heading. The crowd was varied in terms of age, gender, race, and nationality, the small town was quiet and the weather beautiful. It was fun to see anarchists everywhere on the streets, more numerous than the inhabitants venturing outside. I walked around town, saw an arts exhibition, bought zines at the book fair, read outside by the river, listened to traditional anarchist songs, went to a workshop on civil disobedience, participated in an anarcha-feminist assembly, attended a lecture on non-violent action, and chatted with an Austrian who has recently discovered anarchist politics.

Like other alternative gatherings I have been to (such as BiCon), it was both extremely stimulating and a little overwhelming. You get to see an alternative world in action: free prices, vegan food, cooperation, creativity and plans for a revolution become the norm. For a short time, society follows a different set of principles and organises itself around other values according to self-management. Instead of wondering if I’m competent, I found myself volunteering. Instead of asking someone for permission or confirmation, I realized I could enact what I wish to see. I forgot to wonder whether I fit in and started taking an active part in the event. Personal boundaries and assumptions were thus questioned and sometimes directly challenged. I hope that the experience will inform my daily life in the future so I can keep this alive. If you have been to the gathering, I would love to hear from you!