Protecting girls

Andrew Tidball is somewhat of a New Zealand music personality. He DJs, he hosts a radio show on bFM, he runs local music site Cheese on Toast—he’s a guy that can help your band get famous.

I never really had my finger on the pulse of the music scene, so the first time I ever heard of Tidball was when I found out he had raped one of my friends.

Yesterday The Spinoff published an interview with four young women who were sexually abused by Tidball when they were teenagers, one of them when she was only twelve. Some of their stories I’d heard before, others were new.

I’m in awe of how courageous these women are, to publicly come out as survivors of his abuse. I’m also very grateful to them. I know there are probably other women who Tidball preyed on, who have chosen not to come out, because they know how often women are punished for standing up to abusers.

I’m also angry. I know that Tidball would not have been able to abuse multiple girls over a span of over a decade unless he had people around to enable him. There is no way that Tidball could have kept his abusive and predatory behavior a secret from everyone. I’m sure that people at bFM knew that he’d been accused of rape, but they continued to give him a platform up until yesterday, when his behavior became national news. I know that at least one prominent leftwing commentator was contacted by a woman who Tidball raped, and told her that she should go to the police with her “very serious allegations”.

In case anyone thinks that there is no connection between Tidball’s radio show or his website or the gigs he DJs, and his abuse of teenage girls, I will now point out that Tidball used his clout in the music scene, his knowledge of and access to the cool indie bands, to befriend alienated girls for whom music was a passion. He befriended these girls so that he could groom them for abuse. Tidball needs to be held accountable for what he did to these girls, and so does everyone else who made it possible for him to do so.

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It would be nice to pretend that Andrew Tidball is an exceptional predator, a man whose actions are repugnant to the society he lives in. But over and over and over again I see evidence that in New Zealand society, girls’ bodies do not belong to them, girls’ safety doesn’t matter, and girls aren’t really people. I’m thinking of Louise Nicholas and the other girls who were raped by police officers like Clint Rickards, Bob Schollum and Brad Shipton. I’m thinking of the girls who were raped and then publicly shamed by a gang of teenage boys who called themselves ‘roastbusters’. I’m thinking of the “prominent man” with name suppression who was found not guilty of sexually abusing two girls earlier today. I’m thinking of Rob Gilchrist, an undercover police officer who preyed on girls in the anarchist and animal rights movements. I’m thinking that he was enabled by both the police – who employed him – and by adult activists who should’ve known what he was doing but decided they’d rather not know.

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The same day I read about Andrew Tidball, I also read an article in the Guardian about Henderson High School deputy principal Cherith Telford who told female students not to wear short skirts, in order to “stop boys from getting ideas and create a good work environment for male staff”.

This school is teaching girls that it is their responsibility, not just to make sure that boys don’t see them as sexual objects, but also to make sure that their teachers – the adults who have power and authority over them – don’t see them as sexual objects. The school is teaching boys that if they see a girl as a sexual object rather than a person (who may or may not be sexual) that’s not their fault, it’s the girl’s fault. Worst of all the school is telling their male staff members, adults who are trusted to educate and protect children, that if they view girls as sexual objects, that’s the girls’ fault.

This is the kind of attitude that makes girls vulnerable to sexual predators like Andrew Tidball. This high school deputy principal is teaching girls that if they are abused it’s their own fault—essentially grooming girls for sexual abusers.

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I remember what it felt like to be 14 years old. I remember what it was like to be 14 and wear a short skirt. At that age I hated my body. I thought I was fat and ugly—I didn’t look like the models in Dolly or Girlfriend. Wearing a short skirt was a big deal, it took courage and it was part of the process of learning to accept my body. It never would’ve occurred to me that adult men would see me in my short skirt and see an object of sexual desire. It barely occurred to me that boys my own age would see me as desirable.

My mother tried to protect me. She had strict rules about what I could wear, where I could go, who I could talk to. Of course I ignored her. I wore outrageous grunge outfits made of op-shop lingerie, I went for evening walks alone in the Botanic Gardens, I chatted with random men I met on the street.

None of my mother’s rules protected me. They put me in more danger. They meant that when the older boy at the party fondled my breast, when the grocery-store owner put his arm around me and showed me the wine he had available (evidently he thought punk girls trade sexual favours for alcohol), or when the stranger on the street kissed my neck and whispered “I think you’re very sexy”, I blamed myself. Instead of getting angry at these men who violated my boundaries and my autonomy, who touched me without my consent, I got angry at me. I thought that by dressing the way I did I accidentally sent a message to these men that it was OK to touch me that way. I thought that I was the one who had done something wrong, and that what they did was alright.

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We need to protect girls. We need to protect girls by teaching boys that they are in control of their own actions, and will be held responsible for them. We need to protect girls by holding men accountable for abusing and preying on girls. We need to protect girls by refusing to give men who abuse and prey on girls any kind of power to continue abusing and preying on girls.

Most of all we need to protect girls by teaching them that their bodies belong to them, and that their sexuality belongs to them. We need to teach girls that it’s OK to wear short skirts, and it’s OK to walk alone at night, and it’s OK to flirt with boys, and it’s even OK to have sex if they want to have sex, and absolutely none of those things make it OK for anyone to sexually abuse them.

Anyone who teaches girls otherwise is part of the problem.

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The purple and the black

This article first appeared in imminent rebellion 13, and is based on a talk I gave at the Wellington Anarchist Bookfair in 2014. I’m republishing it here for International Working Women’s Day.

Anarchism is basically a movement against state power, but at its most powerful it is a movement against all forms of power and domination. Feminism is a movement for women’s liberation, but it is at its most powerful when it is a movement for liberation from all forms of domination. So bringing anarchism and feminism together is an obvious combination.

What feminism brings to anarchism is a move away from a narrow focus on class and state power, and an analysis of the ways oppression is gendered. What anarchism brings to feminism is a move away from trying to use the apparatus of the state to liberate women, and an analysis of how state power upholds patriarchy.

This means that we need to have an understanding of structural oppression and of the ways that people’s lives are shaped by economic and political circumstances. It also means understanding that people have agency, and that individuals will make the choices that are best for them, out of the limited options available. So we have to respect people’s autonomy.

Putting theory into practice

One example of this is sex work: this is an issue that has long divided the feminist movement. On one hand there are feminists who view sex workers as victims, who believe that no one would freely choose to work in the sex industry, and who support criminalisation of sex workers (for their own good). On the other hand there are feminists who think that sex work is liberating and empowering, because it allows women to make an income from their sexuality.

I think both these views are flawed. Having to exchange your labour for money isn’t liberating: it’s economic oppression. This is true for sex workers just as much as baristas, mechanics, nurses, librarians, editors, and anyone else who relies on selling their labour in order to stay alive. I know many sex workers who love their job. But even when you love your job there are days that you don’t want to work and you have to anyway, so that you can pay your rent. I also know sex workers who hate their job but continue to do it because it’s the best option available to them in a society that hasn’t given them a lot of options.

The important point here is that people’s choices aren’t made in a vacuum—they’re a response to circumstances. This doesn’t mean that you should disrespect their choices. It certainly doesn’t mean that you can liberate them by ignoring their choices and legislating for the state to force them to make the choices that you think they should be making. Women’s liberation will not be granted by the state and giving the state more power over women is dangerous. Laws that give police more power over women are dangerous. Think of all the women who have been raped by police officers, do we really want to give cops more power over any woman? The solution is not to give the state power over sex workers, it’s to give workers power, by supporting sex workers’ unions and organisations.

That’s one example of how we put anarcha-feminist theory into action. In fact, for the most part anarcha-feminism has existed more as practice than as theory. There isn’t a huge body of published work on anarcha-feminism, which in some ways I think is a shame. It’s mostly existed at a grassroots level of people organising on the ground, taking inspiration from a variety of feminist, anarchist, communist, and anti-colonial sources.

Anarchist feminist organising

At the turn of this century there were a lot of women anarchists in Wellington who were organising against free trade, against the war on terror and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, against coal mining in Happy Valley, against releasing genetically-modified organisms into the ecosystem, against low wages and exploitation of workers. What we found was that the groups we worked in were really sexist. This manifested in a bunch of ways. Sometimes it was subtle: men did most of the talking in meetings, men made the decisions, issues that affected women were ignored and weren’t seen as political issues. Other times it was overt: anarchist men who committed rape and relationship abuse were being defended by their comrades, and women who were raped and abused weren’t supported.

In response to that, we started up an anarcha-feminist group. Most of us didn’t know a lot about feminist history or theory. We were learning as we went. We spent a lot of our meetings talking about our own lives. We talked about experiences that we had in common and experiences that we didn’t have in common. Sharing our experiences with each other helped us connect the dots and understand the ways that our personal hardships were political in nature, and were caused by living in a patriarchal society.

When we started our group we decided that our meetings would only be open to women. At the time it was important to us to have a space without men, where we felt safe speaking our minds—and where we were allowed time to speak our minds without being talked over. In retrospect having women-only meetings wasn’t a good idea. It meant that we had to police who was and wasn’t welcome, which excluded a lot of people, especially trans women and genderqueer folks. It also meant that we had a tendency to homogenise women’s experiences and assume that we all had particular things in common. We often ended up ignoring the ways that racism, colonisation, class, heterosexism, transphobia and disability shape women’s lives.

When we started talking about what issues we should organise around, I think we made the mistake of taking a really narrow view of what constituted a feminist issue. We talked about rape, domestic violence, abortion, sexuality, diets, beauty standards—these are all really important issues and they’re often dismissed because they’re seen as ‘women’s issues’. But what I’ve come to realise is that every political issue is a feminist issue. Poverty is a feminist issue, war is a feminist issue, prisons are a feminist issue, colonialism is a feminist issue, benefit cuts are a feminist issue, workers’ rights are a feminist issue. Part of the reason that I’m not involved in a feminist group at the moment is that I don’t feel like I need to work in an explicitly feminist organisation: I bring my feminist practice to all the political work that I do.

In spite of our mistakes, all that fighting to make women heard did have an effect. The anarchist movement in Wellington has changed, there are more women active, there are more women being listened to, and issues that affect women are treated as political issues. This has alienated some men from anarchism—the ones that didn’t like their power being challenged.

Decolonising anarchism

Nowadays I see the same pattern being repeated. Anarchist activity is dominated by Pākehā. There’s a lot of racism, both explicit and implicit, to the point where a lot of Māori and other people of colour are fed up and don’t want anything to do with anarchism. A big part of that is that for some people anarchism has become synonymous with a kind of class-reductionist politics that ignores the relationship between class and sexism, racism, transphobia, disability and homophobia.

Pākehā anarchists have a tendency to be Eurocentric: they take ideas developed by people like Bakunin and Kropotkin in Europe and try to apply them to Aotearoa. These are useful ideas, but there is a different context here. The New Zealand state exists as a direct result of colonisation, and if we want to dismantle the state then we need to put decolonisation at the centre of our anarchist practice.

Don’t ban bossy, ban bosses

In the last couple of years feminism has made a comeback. Being a feminist is no longer taboo—Miley Cyrus, Beyoncé, Tina Fey, Sheryl Sandberg, National’s Jo Goodhew and NZ First’s Tracey Martin are all self-professed feminists. Being a feminist has been reduced to an individual identity and a brand, rather than a political movement and a set of ethics. Instead of mass grassroots organising we get viral Youtube videos and Facebook memes.

One of the most prominent—and grating—examples of this type of feminism is Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In book and NGO. Lean in encourages women to achieve their goals by learning to overcome their fears and have confidence in themselves. This brand (and it literally is a brand) of feminism has no room for collective struggle or for recognising structural oppression. Instead of naming and abolishing the many barriers to women’s freedom, Lean In places the blame for women’s suffering on Women—we just need to overcome our fears and learn self-confidence. In this way, feminism is reduced to an individualist aspiration for individual success.

Lean In’s main contribution to the feminist movement is Ban Bossy. The campaign aims to encourage girls to take leadership positions by banning words like ‘bossy’ and ‘know-it-all’. There are countless reasons to criticise Ban Bossy. It fails to acknowledge the ways that girls’ experiences are shaped by class, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, disability, and assigned sex. It emphasises individual achievement over collective liberation. It assumes that the solution to sexism is putting more women in positions of power, instead of abolishing power inequality and constructing horizontal models of social organisation.

It’s also incredibly inane—functioning as an advertising campaign, not a social movement. It transforms women’s liberation into a commodity you purchase, rather than collectively fight for— like everything else in a capitalist economy. In fact the Ban Bossy online shop sells branded T-shirts, tote bags, mugs and even iPhone cases.

There’s nothing new about feminist ideas being co-opted and used to uphold capitalism. At best it’s brought us nothing, at worst it’s created the illusion that sexism no longer exists, because women can exploit the working class as efficiently as men. This is why it’s so important to articulate a feminist politics that aims for liberation from all oppression.

Smashing patriarchy on Teh Interwebz

New forms of media have made it easier to spread feminist and radical ideas. Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Youtube and Instagram allow people to share ideas, dialogue, and orchestrate mass activist campaigns without relying on conventional media to give them a platform. It’s been a double-edged sword. We risk having feminism reduced to a fad—a youth subculture defined by a love of cupcakes, winged eyeliner and Beyoncé instead of a political movement based on shared principles.

But the rise of online feminism has also meant that feminist ideas can flow from the periphery to the centre, or from periphery to periphery, without commercial publishers acting as gatekeepers. Some of the most useful and exciting feminist commentary is coming from bloggers like Budour Hassan in Palestine, Sara Salem in Egypt and Razan Ghazawi in Syria—and in a world where Arab women are consistently portrayed as passive victims of their own culture, these women’s voices are hella relevant. Likwise the group blog Tits and Sass provides a perspective on sex work from the people whose perspective matters the most—sex workers.

When Cece McDonald was incarcerated for defending herself and her friends from a racist and transphobic attacker, the website Support Cece featured updates from her support team and blog posts written by McDonald in prison. The website didn’t just build solidarity with a political prisoner—it also served to link her struggle with a broader struggle against racism, transmisogyny, and the prison-industrial-complex.

Here in Aotearoa Kim McBreen’s He Hōaka is an amazing resource on decolonisation, gender and sexuality. The group blog Mellow Yellow publishes feminist perspectives on racism and migrant identity. Capitalism Bad, Tree Pretty covers everything from labour struggles to rape culture to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but I particularly recommend it for Maia’s articulate discussion of the politics of human bodies.

Tangles, assemblages and intersections

In 1989 Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term ‘intersectionality’ to illustrate that different types of oppression don’t exist in isolation, they intersect with each other.

Since then it’s become a bit of a feminist buzzword—people throw it around a lot, but don’t always stop to think about what it means in practice.

I actually don’t think that intersectionality is a very good model for understanding oppression, because it suggests that different types of oppression exist on separate axes that occasionally intersect. The reality is that they are deeply intertwined. Class is racialised, racism is gendered, and so on. Jasbir Puar suggests that we need to understand these as assemblages rather than intersections. I tend to think of them as entanglements: identities, experiences, material circumstances, interpersonal and structural oppressions get tangled together. If we want to undermine oppression, we have to start by mapping these tangles so we can understand the relationship between different types of oppression.

Where to from here?

What attracted me to anarcha-feminism as a teenager was this idea that all oppression is connected. Instead of arguing over which is more important, fighting capitalism or fighting sexism or fighting colonialism, we need to be fighting all of them simultaneously. That’s the theoretical basis of it anyway. In practice people don’t always do that. Feminists can be incredibly racist, transmisogynist and ableist. It’s important to acknowledge that. It’s important to listen to people when they challenge you on the way your political organising is throwing them under the bus. We can only get better if we’re willing to be honest about our fuck ups.

I’m trying to think of what I want for the future of anarcha-feminist organising: I think the most important thing is that we prioritise the needs of the people who have the least power in this society. All anarchists need to focus on decolonisation and fighting racism. We all need to organise in ways that are welcoming and inclusive to people who aren’t Pākehā—and not make it the responsibility of Māori and other people of colour. We need to prioritise making spaces safe for trans women and other trans people—without making it the responsibility of trans anarchists. We need to make feminist spaces accessible, to organise in ways that don’t disable people. And we need to do this everywhere all of the time.

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Nightmares and ghosts

When I was seven, my parents took me on a day trip to Ein Hod, an artists’ village near Haifa. I thought it was the coolest place I’d ever been. We walked through galleries, studios, and workshops, and I even got to make some prints of my own.

Years later, when I was an adult, my mother told me the true story of Ein Hod. It had been a Palestinian village – Ein Houd. In 1945 the village occupied 12,605 dunams (1,260.5 hectares) of land and had a population of around 700. In May 1948 Ein Houd was invaded by the newly-established Israeli Defense Force and its inhabitants were ethnically-cleansed. In the early 1950s the village’s buildings were settled by Israeli artists who renamed it Ein Hod. Most of Ein Houd’s Palestinian residents ended up refugees in the West Bank, but a group of 35 villagers stayed in the area and re-established Ein Houd near its original site. In 2005, after 57 years of struggle, the state of Israel finally recognized the village and allowed it to join the electricity grid.

Haifa-born Palestinian novelist Salman Natour, who died this week, wrote about Ein Houd in his book The Chronicle of the Wrinkled-Face Sheikh:

The village of Ayn Houd was transformed into a Jewish artists’ colony known as Ein Hod. In the old days, there was a grand mosque whose spire rose high above the ground. In the artists’ colony the mosque had been converted into a highbrow restaurant. At the entrance stood a female host who catered to the artists’ needs, and to those of their respectable guests.

A few years ago, an old Sheikh arrived at the artists’ colony from Siris, a village located in the Jenin district. He headed to a house, inhabited by an artist who had immigrated from Europe or America. The artist’s wife opened the door and was startled at first, seeing the strange keffiyeh-wearing man staring back at her. The man was silent as a stone, as he had never seen a half-naked woman opening the door of a house. The woman recovered quickly and gently invited the man inside. She summoned her husband, the artist, who was also apprehensive when he saw the keffiyeh and the thick mustache of the visitor. But the artist also recovered quickly, particularly after he saw the smile spreading across the visitor’s face.

‘What brings you here?’ he asked.

The Arab man answered without hesitation: ‘I was born here. This is my home.’

‘This is your home?’ The artist’s voice expressed great amazement. ‘What do you mean? Tell me. What happened?’

The guest seated himself on a comfortable armchair and told his story from beginning to end. The artist served him a cup of coffee. He even offered him a glass of whisky. He sat next to him and begged to hear the details. The artist believed every word.

The Arab man went back to his village in the West Bank. The artist, however, was seized by guilt, sadness and irritability. He decided to leave the house and moved to another. But the ghosts kept pursuing him to the new home. Every day he woke up expecting another Arab man to visit the house where he had been born. The nightmares and ghosts never vanished.

Ein Hod encapsulates my relationship with the country I was born to. There are so many things I love about Israeli culture. But all of them, every last one, are built on the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. And none of them, no matter how brilliant, vibrant, and amazing, can ever, ever make up for the ethnic cleansing on which this culture and society is built.

The nightmares and ghosts will never vanish. Not until Palestinian refugees can return to their homes and live freely and without fear.

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Shana tova and a gut yor

5775 went by so fast I can barely remember it. I do know that I’ve neglected this blog terribly. I will now attempt to make up for it by kvetching a year’s worth of blogging into one post. It’s taken me almost a month—partly because of the inexplicable fatigue that’s hit me recently, but if nothing else it’s forced me to work out just what I’ve been doing this last year.

Last Rosh Hashana I was enjoying the warm spring in the backyard, drawing and discussing my love life with my flatmate’s dog. I’m not a relationship person. Every relationship I’ve ever been in—whether monogamous or poly—made me miserable. I don’t like feeling like my life revolves around one person. I don’t like being expected to prioritise one person over everyone and everything that makes me happy. Most of all I don’t like the constant guilt and shame associated with failing to be exactly what my partner expects me to be.

It was spring in Sydney. Things were growing. For the first time in my life I had a lover who was interested in my politics, who valued the activist work I do, who actually read (and liked) my writing, who thought of me as a whole human rather than an accessory. It was strange and it made me suspicious, but the advantage of being a whole human whose life doesn’t revolve around one person is that I can afford to take emotional risks, and I knew this one was worth it. I learned that although I don’t need a partner, having a partner is worth it when that person makes my life better.

Towards the end of Tishrei New Zealand’s election results were announced. It was much of the same: National won, the left (or what passes for left) did badly, and about a quarter of eligible people didn’t bother to vote at all. I’m not one of those people who get excited about elections. It seems that every time a new leftwing party or candidate comes along the entire left drops everything in favour of the new messiah. Right now we have Corbyn in the UK and Sanders in the US. Last year it was the Mana–Internet Party alliance. Any time I expressed doubt about Kim Dotcom’s principles I got shut down with one word: ‘strategic’. Sure, Dotcom’s politics aren’t perfect (particularly where women are concerned) but in order to get anywhere in parliamentary politics one has to be ‘strategic’. In the end it turns out that supporting a party founded by a millionaire wasn’t all that strategic after all, and considering his admiration for Donald Trump that is just as well. Moving on…

Cheshvan was the first time I returned to Aotearoa since moving to Sydney. I didn’t tell anyone I was visiting; I wanted to avoid social obligations. I spent most of the trip dealing with tedious life maintenance stuff—doctors, banks, storage, that sort of thing. On Halloween Entropy and I went to a gig at Moon, dressed as the devil and the grim reaper because 123 Mart was selling plastic pitchforks and scythes for $5 each. It used to be that I’d go to a show in Wellington and know at least half the people there. This time I barely recognised anyone and to be honest it was kinda nice. I had a strange moment walking down Cuba St, when I suddenly noticed how light I felt. I wasn’t carrying any of the tension or anxiety that usually weighs me down. It wasn’t what Wellington used to feel like. Old memories didn’t sting. I was actually happy. Turns out that moving away was the best decision I made in a long time.

Also in Cheshvan, Julian Blanc, ‘pick up artist’, got chased out of Australia. In principle I’m opposed to borders, but I wasn’t all that upset when this schmuck’s visa got cancelled. Building a career out of encouraging men to manipulate and assault women doesn’t earn you much sympathy in my book. I realise that Blanc’s attitude to women isn’t particularly novel. It’s an unsurprising result of an ideology of gender that views women and men as opposite forces locked in an eternal battle. I’ve met (and dated) too many men who struggle to understand that women are more than trophies or mobile masturbation machines. My dating advice for hetero men is this: treat women like human beings. That way, even if they don’t want to have sex with you they will still think you are a nice person. (Handy hint: while great for having sex with, women also make neat platonic friends.)

Kislev came along and reminded me why I oppose state control of borders. Monica Jones was on her way back to Australia from the US, to finish her social work qualification. She was allowed to board her flight, but when she arrived in Sydney border control informed her that her visa had been revoked, and detained her. Her bail hearing seemed like some kind of performance art on the nature of White supremacy. Here was this inspiring, brave, principled woman who devotes her time and energy to fighting for sex workers’ rights, and here were lawyers and judges discussing her fate as if she was invisible. In the end, Jones agreed to return to the US because the alternative would’ve required her to stay in detention for at least two weeks. It’s hard to untangle all the ropes that curbed her freedom of movement, but they include racism, transmisogyny, anti-sex worker stigma and state bureaucracy.

That same month I traveled to Melbourne to see family. I’m pretty sloppy when it comes to lighting Hannukah candles, and that year I only celebrated on two of the eight nights. Once was with ultra-orthodox family friends. We ate certified kosher food and recited all the required blessings and I managed not to say anything that offended anyone or mix up the milk and the meat crockery. The second time was with a bunch of queer Jews with whom I was coincidentally staying. We ate latkes and lit candles and compared Jewish experiences. Some of us had had religious upbringings and some only had vague knowledge of Jewish traditions. It was a relief to be surrounded by other Jews and not have to hide parts of myself.

In Tevet I went to a party—It happens maybe once a year. Someone had hired a stripper to serve drinks topless, as a present for the man whose party it was. I wasn’t sure how I felt about this. I don’t have a problem with nudity (anyone who’s known me for any length of time has probably seen me naked by now). I support strippers’ and other sex workers’ right to work. As far as I know she was being paid well for the job—I didn’t talk to her about it because I can’t imagine anything more annoying than having to make other people feel better about your work, while you’re at work. But I didn’t think hiring a woman to walk around topless at a party was very cool. I couldn’t really articulate why until I talked to Maia about it, and she said, ‘it’s like the way topless women are deployed on Games of Thrones—in a way that says “this is a space for men.”’

That month, in France, two religious fundamentalists forced their way inside the offices of a (racist and not very funny) magazine called Charlie Hebdo, murdered twelve people and injured eleven others. It was a vile act of violence. I was particularly horrified that people were attacked in their workplace, as if employees are responsible for their employers’ editorial policy (not that I’m surprised that religious fundamentalists have no class analysis). Nevertheless, in the spirit of making lemons into lemonade, political leaders around the world managed to exploit this terrible event to further their own agendas. Champions of liberty including David Cameron, Binyamin Netanyahu, Mahmoud Abbas and Viktor Orban marched in Paris to show their support for freedom of speech, as long as that speech isn’t threatening their political power. The horrific acts of violence perpetrated by these men went more or less ignored.

Shvat is supposed to mean spring, the time when almond trees bloom, but in Sydney the days were getting shorter. One Shabbat we marched through Redfern to commemorate the death of TJ Hickey. It was eleven years since the day TJ was fatally impaled while being chased by police. He was seventeen years old. Since then the Hickey family hasn’t received so much as an apology, and local government refuses to allow a plaque commemorating TJ on the fence on which he died.

I’d been to plenty of protests in Sydney before, most of them much bigger and in the city centre. So I was genuinely surprised by the disproportionate aggression of the police. Before the march even started they’d already gotten into a fight while confiscating a banner from some socialists. That march taught me a lot about the level of violence Aboriginal people face from police. Australia reminds me so much of Israel—both regimes share a visceral fear of Indigenous people.

Later in Shvat I started studying Arabic again. I first realised I needed to learn Arabic when I was in Palestine seven years ago. Trying to work with people and support their resistance is hard when you can’t speak with them in their own language. Hebrew and Arabic are similar enough that I picked up reading and writing fairly quickly, but grammar and vocabulary are a bit more challenging. Part of the problem is that classes aimed at English speakers move so slowly. Anglophones are so used to the rest of the world speaking their language that they’re really at a disadvantage when it comes to learning anyone else’s. When our teacher explained that in different regions people speak different dialects of Arabic, a White Australian student complained ‘what’s the point of that?’ It was amusing that she thought human migration and subsequent linguistic diversity should have some kind of point, but it was also bloody exasperating.

After Shvat comes Adar. I enrolled in a drawing class. It was nice giving myself permission to spend money and learn a new skill purely because it’s fun. I think that letting myself do stuff purely because it’s fun is in itself a new skill that I’m still working on honing. It was great to have a teacher watching over my shoulder and pointing out things that need improvement, because normally I’m too ADHD and impatient to spend a long amount of time on a drawing. I get bored quickly and decide it’s fine the way it is even if the proportions aren’t quite right and the foreshortening’s a bit out of whack. It was a therapeutic exercise. I kinda wish that the myriad counselors and psychiatrists I’ve seen over the years had sent me to drawing classes instead of CBT or whatever.

In Adar comes Purim, and on Purim it is a mitzvah to drink until you no longer know the difference between good and evil. Some people don’t know the difference even without wine, which is why Auckland Pride included uniformed police and corrections officers in their march. A small number of young queers decided to take a stand against this blatant pinkwashing of state violence. They unfurled a banner that read ‘No Pride in Prisons’. The reaction from Pride security and organisers was disgusting. They violently grabbed the protesters, broke one woman’s arm, and smashed the cellphone someone tried to film it on. Unsurprisingly the woman whose arm was broken is trans and Māori, which nicely illustrates the reason that she was protesting in the first place. The cops, for their part, didn’t step in to protect this young woman, but arrested her and kept her from accessing medical care for 45 minutes.

Onwards to Nissan. A variety of racists congregated in Martin Place to ‘reclaim’ Australia from migrants, multi-culturalism and Islam. I dutifully attended the counter-protest in spite of my ongoing scepticism about antifa organising. Getting into fights with fascists is all very glamorous, but aside from fueling their persecution complex, I’m not convinced it has much impact. Effective opposition to fascism would require a lot of boring tedious groundwork: reaching out to communities who are threatened by White nationalism, finding common ground, building trust, and coordinating resistance. It would also require us to move beyond sappy liberal slogans and address the systemic racism on which Australia is founded. We can’t declare that ‘real Australians say welcome’ without asking who the hell constitutes a real Australian, and why White people get to welcome migrants to a land they colonised through genocide.

That Nissan was my first Pesach in Sydney. I kinda expected my bourgeois Zionist relatives to invite me to their seder, and I was already fabricating polite excuses, but as it turned out I never heard from them. I was both relieved and offended. As usual I planned to organise an anarchist seder for all my friends, and as usual I didn’t get around to it. I spent Pesach eve alone, eating chametz, which has become somewhat of a tradition. I read through various leftist hagaddot that I found online. There are many Pesach traditions that I love: story-telling as a way of passing on history and ethics from one generation to the next, the various rituals and symbols involving food, the commandment to open your door to anyone who might join you on this night. So much of my relationship with Judaism is negative—after all, I grew up in a Jewish theocracy—so it’s important to me to focus on the parts that do resonate.

Then it was Iyar, and getting far too cold for my liking. I broke my no-parties rule once again and attended a house show—it was a fundraiser for the Redfern Aboriginal Tent Embassy and my lover’s band was playing. On the wall near the doorway of the venue someone had painted ‘no posers’ in big letters. It generated an interesting discussion about what exactly makes someone a poser, and it also reminded me why I distanced myself from the punk scene. There are so many people who should be excluded from shows: racists, transphobes, abusers. Instead punks obsess about the authenticity of other people’s punkness. Are they wearing enough patches? Do they have enough piercings? Can they quote enough Amebix lyrics? I honestly can’t think of anything less punk than worrying about not being a poser. As an alternative, try worrying about not being a shitty person.

Iyar was also the centenary of the Battle of Gallipoli, which necessitated some bile-inducing celebrations of a pointless, horrific war. I’m glad I wasn’t in Wellington to witness what a comrade described as ‘poppy-geddon’ on Taranaki St. That Peter Jackson was put in charge of the ANZAC Day parade makes it clear that commemoration of the war didn’t become a spectacle by accident. This is militarism as entertainment: a romantic and glamorous adventure for honour and glory, Lord of the Rings reimagined with dapper uniforms and vintage cars. Though the slogan ‘lest we forget’ is ubiquitous, the real purpose of all these shenanigans is to ensure that no one remembers the brutality of war, the pointlessness of nationalism, or the corruption of empire. As if what soldiers went through in life wasn’t enough, the state continues to exploit them in death, spinning their stories into fairy tales that will convince another generation that invading other people’s land is a cool thing to do with your time.

In Sivan New Zealand’s media, which loves to froth about the madness of political correctness, gleefully announced that at the Labour Party conference young activists proposed a new policy of public funding for gender reassignment surgery. Labour party leadership were quick to proclaim that of course they have no intention of doing anything that sensible and humane. Andrew Little assured the public that he is very happy with his gender (so is every trans person I know, Andrew. It’s your cissexism they have a problem with). At the same time, the government was spending $26 million on choosing a new flag. That amount of money would easily cover GRS for everyone on the current waiting list, with some left over to fund trans-specific mental health services, refuges and rape crisis centres; training for medical professionals on how to provide appropriate healthcare for trans people; scholarships for trans students; trans advocates at high schools and tertiary education institutions; public education campaigns to combat transmisogyny and transphobia; resources for trans asylum seekers; and free donuts for every trans person.

Six months of work finally bore fruit in Sivan: it was the Sydney Anarchist Bookfair. When I moved to Sydney I promised myself I’d take a break from activism and concentrate on paid work. I wasn’t planning to take on any organising responsibilities for the bookfair, but apparently I’m too much of a control freak to manage that. Here’s some things I learned: (a) consensus-based horizontal organising with people who don’t have much experience can be a pain in the ass, but these are skills you only learn by doing, and it’s worth the extra work and extra fuckups if it means more people have the skills to organise in the future; (b) everything is more time and money and work than you expect, so don’t over-extend yourself; (c) it’s often easier to just do shit yourself, but if you want folks to give a shit about your project, you need to involve them; (d) make space for Indigenous voices. Make space for disabled voices. Make space for trans voices. Make space for migrant voices. Make space for new perspectives, no one needs to sit through another lecture about what the IWW were up to 100 years ago.

In the month of Tammuz, the USA (a country that prides itself on its commitment to individual liberties) finally recognised marriage between two people of the same gender. This was declared a victory for love, but if we’re being honest, marriage has little to do with love. Love doesn’t need permission from the government. Marriage is about more material things, like healthcare, borders, and money. I recognise that in the USA legalising same-sex marriage has very practical implications for people’s lives (unlike New Zealand where it was mostly a symbolic victory). I would rather abolish marriage altogether, because I don’t think the state has any business policing people’s relationships. I don’t see why one kind of relationship that some people choose to have should be singled out for special treatment. I don’t see why access to healthcare, or freedom to cross borders, should be linked to a person’s relationship status. I’m happy for everyone whose life is improved because of the ruling, but I’m also mindful that this isn’t the climax of queer liberation that some folk are making it out to be.

That same month I crossed something off my bucket list. I began learning Yiddish, at the Centrum Kultury Jidysz in Warsaw. It was harder than I expected—my first day of class I took one look at the textbook and shouted, ‘this is nothing like Hebrew!’ Yiddish did not play a big role in my childhood. None of my grandparents spoke it at home (although it was their first language). In Israeli society Yiddish is taboo. When I told a childhood friend I was planning on studying Yiddish he was genuinely offended. Yiddish, he told me, belongs to a time when Jews were weak and had to hide who we are. It is a dead language, and it should stay dead. Because of this antagonism to Yiddish, I had thought the decline of the language was self-inflicted. That might be the case in Palestine, but in the USSR Yiddish was banned outright, and other countries had more subtle ways of forcing linguistic assimilation. The nice thing is that Yiddish is slowly being revived, and so are European Jewish communities.

After my Yiddish program finished I stayed in Poland and spent Av researching family history in Warsaw and Lublin. I’m the first person to return since my grandfather escaped during the Second World War and I wasn’t sure what to expect. I imagined Poland as a heavily nationalistic and anti-Semitic country. I was pleasantly surprised (I think it helped that I spent my time in a Jewish bubble). What I learned is that the Polish narrative about the holocaust is very different from the Zionist narrative I grew up with. Poles I talked to insisted that Jews have always been a part of Polish society. To them the holocaust is an atrocity carried out by foreign invaders against Polish Jews. In spite of that, I couldn’t help noticing that people talked of ‘Poles’ and ‘Jews’ rather than ‘Jewish Poles’ and ‘Christian Poles’. Even after a thousand years Jews are outsiders in Poland. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; I prefer it to either assimilation or to having a ‘Jewish’ state.

There was one day in Av that really brought home the violence of the Jewish state. A Jewish fundamentalist named Yishai Schlissel stabbed six people at the Jerusalem pride parade. He killed one of them, a 16-year-old girl named Shira Banki. Schlissel is from a West Bank settlement called Modi’in Illit and had recently been released from prison, after serving a ten-year sentence for stabbing three people during Jerusalem Pride 2005. He had made it very clear that he intended to continue violently enforcing his homophobic interpretation of Jewish theology. That night a group of Jewish supremacists firebombed a Palestinian family’s home in Duma. A toddler named Ali Dawabshe burned to death. Eight days later his father, Saad, died of his injuries. His mother, Reham, died a month later. The only survivor is 4-year-old Ahmad Dawabshe, who’s still recovering in Sheba hospital. Neither of these crimes are isolated—they’re a product of settler-colonialism, patriarchy and religious chauvinism.

When Elul rolled around the world finally started paying attention to the millions of Syrians fleeing both IS and Assad’s violence. Even in New Zealand there’s a growing movement demanding an increase to the refugee quota. After my time in Poland, the photos and stories of Syrian refugees hit me hard. I know that there’s a direct connection between my grandparents’ escape from genocide in Europe to Palestine, the ensuing ethnic cleansing of Palestinians to Syria (among other places), and the current crisis. I’ve been oscillating between feeling grateful that so many Westerners empathise with refugees, and feeling frustrated that the focus remains on charity, rather than solidarity, and on the exceptional desperation of these particular refugees, rather than the inherent violence of borders. We cannot pretend that the violence in the Levant is nothing to do with us—no country is an island (metaphorically speaking).

By then I was in London, wondering what the hell I’m doing with my life. I got myself a work visa—I thought I’d find myself a boring fulltime job in publishing or comms and save money for a few months. The problem is, I was so exhausted I was barely managing the freelance work I was getting. It happens every year or two, this all-consuming fatigue that swallows my life. I’m never sure what it is: depression? A side effect of my meds? Hypermobility? B12 deficiency? Is it all in my head? Am I just lazy? In my experience it’s hard to get doctors to take you seriously, especially when you have a history of mental illness. Trying to navigate the NHS was like being in an episode of Broad City—every clinic I went to sent me someplace else. When my energy levels are low, I’m using all my reserves just to make sure I eat enough. It’s unfortunate that the symptoms that forced me to seek medical help also made it near-impossible to access it. The healthcare system really isn’t designed with sick people in mind.

By Rosh Hashana I’d already made plans to go to Berlin so I could rest and recover on my own terms. That’s where I am now, sitting with my laptop (or schleptop as we say in Yiddish) at a café in Neukölln, eating vegan cake and thinking that actually an awful lot went on in the last year. I’ve gotten used to the way the Jewish year is inverted in the southern hemisphere – Pesach in autumn, Hannukah in summer—but in my mind I still associate the month of Tishrei with migrating birds, flowering squill and the Palestinian autumn. Tishrei in Northern Europe is different again. The days are sunny, still, and biting—what my Francophone flatmate calls ‘raw cold’. I’m trying to work out what my aspirations are for this year. I feel restless and impatient. I’m tired of being tired. I’m tired of small victories. I want the world to be alright now. I want peace in Syria, in Palestine, and in the rest of the Levant. I want an end to violence against women, especially trans women. I want to be part of a Jewish community that embraces diaspora, not settler colonialism. I want the work that I do, and that I’m passionate about, to be enough to meet my material needs. I want to keep learning stuff. I want plenty of time to lie in the sun, make out with my love and pet cute dogs. I want to look back in Tishrei 5777 and feel like I made the world, and my life, slightly less shit in 5776.

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Issue four

It took some time, but I finally finished issue four of not afraid of ruins. This one details the last four years of traveling, studying, and coping with mental illness. It was written in pieces, in Aotearoa, the UK, Palestine, and Australia. It’s got a lot about depression, trauma and self-harm, so might be triggering for some people.

You can order a hard copy from Rebel Press, or if you’re in Sydney buy it from Jura. Otherwise you can download the pdf and print your own copy (it’s imposed for printing, so I don’t recommend trying to read it online.

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Glory in the little things

Some days the violence of colonisation and capitalism is so palpable that I can barely bring myself to get out of bed. In the face of so much cruelty and oppression it’s hard to maintain that sense of hope that is an essential prerequisite for struggle to continue. That’s why it’s so important to celebrate victories, no matter how small.

Today I am celebrating two victories.

In Aotearoa, Tāmaki Makaurau-based group No Pride in Prisons won their campaign to have prisoner Jade Follet transferred to a women’s prison. Jade is a trans woman who’s been in prison since July 4 (she previously spent 6 months in custody before she was even sentenced) for stabbing a man who showed up at her home after weeks of harassing and stalking her. At the time she was a teenager and he was in his 40s.

Jade applied to be transferred two months ago and never heard back from the Department of Corrections, who appear to have lost her request. Her case only became a national media issue after No Pride in Prisons announced they would set up camp on Karangahape Rd and go on hunger strike until Jade was transferred. The hunger strike lasted a few hours before Jade’s transfer was approved.

It’s a sign of how dire things are, that having a woman incarcerated in a women’s prison for the crime of defending herself is a victory. But now Corrections have learned that when they endanger trans women, people take note. Hopefully the next trans woman who’s sentenced doesn’t spend a single day in a men’s prison.

It’s a small victory, when what we really need is to abolish the prison-industrial-complex, but it makes a hell of a difference to the women it affects.

Across the Tasman Sea, on Cadigal land, the Redfern Aboriginal Tent Embassy won their 15-month battle for Aboriginal housing. The Australian Federal government has committed $5 million to build 62 homes for Aboriginal families on the Block.

Here’s what Embassy organiser Auntie Jenny had to say:

I’m old school. My teachers taught me the principles of our resistance – we never ceded our land to anyone. The Embassy has demonstrated that for our people, resistance is the only way to go. For all the communities around the country facing closure – don’t talk sovereignty, assert your sovereignty. Put up an embassy and demand the funding for your basic rights. We will fight with you every step of the way.

We still have major concerns about the AHC and its lack of transparency. People seem to forget that we have been the targets of threats, assaults and intimidation from the family of the office manager since we started. These criminal matters are still before the courts. But we were unmoved. It will take more than thugs to stop our fight. We will always be watching.

I live for the day when the system treats us all as equals, regardless of colour and our long, proud history and traditions are recognised as the bedrock of this country.

The Block was originally earmarked for Aboriginal housing back in 1972, but more recently the Aboriginal Housing Company [AHC] decided to build a commercial complex of student apartments, a gym and childcare centre instead, and postpone building Aboriginal housing to some time in the future. Last year activists occupied the Block and established a tent embassy to demand that AHC prioritise housing for Aboriginal people over revenue-generating enterprises.

Again, this is a small victory in a country where Indigenous people are still being ethnically cleansed, but it’s a significant one. This isn’t just about the families who’ll be able to continue living in Redfern, the tent embassy also established relationships and gave people skills and experience that will be useful for the next battle.

That’s the thing about small victories—they don’t win you the war, but they give you the hope you need to keep going. To quote Janelle Monae: ‘to be victorious, you must find glory in the little things’.

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Shana metuka

Shana tova

Happy 5775. Here’s to a year of love, a year of solidarity, a year of justice, a year of liberation, a year of dachshunds and vegan donuts.

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