Some Extremely Effective Grassroots Protest Methods & Exactly Why They Work

A post by Jamie

 

Last week, I wrote about an annoyingly pervasive blight of unchecked male privilege at grassroots protests, which is actually angry-making when the protest concerns an attack against women’s rights. But when that attack against women’s rights involves multiple layers of outright racism on top of that (racialized women’s rights being particularly vulnerable already, due to the effects of systemic racism on the upholding/deprivation of justice for women of colour), it’s enough to make me utterly livid. I am referring to men walking up to either a pro-life demonstration being attended by a grassroots pro-choice counter-protest, or to an isolated pro-choice demonstration, and playing the Devil’s advocate on one or both sides (but usually just the pro-life side) for hours and hours of mental masturbation. I call them Philosophy Dudebros and for several reasons, they just don’t mix with grassroots. This post is about (some of) what the grassroots are doing for pro-choice demonstrations and counter-protests, and exactly why they are doing it. Understanding effective pro-choice tactics and the reasons why they work, in addition to an understanding of intersectional influences (such as the effects of racism or colonialism in the dialogue on both sides of the issue), one can easily apply that knowledge to their activism on other social justice issues.

Keyboard Warrior Warning: Cut the shit, Sonny. I don’t have time for another three days of your dudebro-ing. This post is about actual activism. In fact, I don’t think anyone does, and that rather generously includes you too.

Tone Police Warning: I’m not apologizing for profanity, for the manner in which I’ve characterized different groups of people with egregiously harmful political leanings, or how aggressive my tactics are as an activist. Get used to it. Maybe grow a backbone in the interim.

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Steubenville, consent, alcohol, and me: my stories of sexual non-quest

This post is going to contain some stories about my personal life – specifically, my sex life. If you’d rather not know that kind of information about me, this is probably where you want to stop reading. Also trigger warning for discussion of rape (but I swear there’s nothing explicit).

I generally don’t blog about rape. My specific opinion on the topic (spoilers: I’m opposed to it) is barely marginally helpful, as I am just as likely to set foot in the wrong place as I am to say something profound, and there are people who are much more directly affected by the discussion than I am. My preference is to read the opinions of others who have more pragmatic experience with the topic, either as someone who has been raped, someone who works with rape victims, or someone for whom fear of rape is part of their daily life and decision making. Listening to those voices has been immeasurably helpful to my own understanding of the topic and the sociology underpinning it.

One of the biggest shifts in my thinking – more crystalization than a real ‘shift’ – is about the topic of consent and how it relates to alcohol. I managed to figure out on my own that you shouldn’t do anything drunk with someone that you wouldn’t do sober, and that you should extend that to a potential partner – if ze wouldn’t fuck you unless ze was wasted, it’s not okay. I don’t know that I considered that ‘rape’ before I began reading feminist writings (I probably would have just thought it was a shitty thing to do to someone), but I have no problem identifying it as such now.

I have avoided talking about the rape of Jane Doe in Steubenville, Ohio because, again, I don’t think I have anything useful to add to the topic. I’m glad the judge didn’t buy the argument that a girl who was so drunk that she had to be physically carried out of a room was still sober enough to consent to sex. I think that anyone who thinks that the blame starts and ends with the two boys who raped her is severely deluded, as are those who wish to completely exonerate them. Hopefully this case will be high-profile enough to spark a discussion about the messages we send boys about masculinity and about sex and about women and about consent. [Read more...]

The pursuit of purity

A common failing I see in most online discussions of just about any topic is a failure to separate the person from the idea. Whether it be invocations of ‘racists’ or ‘misogynists’ (or, I will subsequently argue, ‘feminists’ or ‘skeptics’), we categorize people based on their arguments, usually (but not always*) after a tiny number of instances of a given behaviour, or based only on their furious affirmations of allegiance one way or another. This is not only a failing of our criticisms of others, but our images of ourselves.

The specific form of this that I want to discuss today is the word ‘ally’. What most people mean when they use the term ally is that they are a person who is not a member of a marginalized group, but who is sympathetic to that group’s needs and (in some cases) helps to articulate their arguments. Allies are useful and important to any movement – there were many white civil rights and anti-apartheid crusaders; there were (and are) many male feminists and suffrage advocates; there are lots of heterosexual people who fight against homophobia.

The crucial function that allies can serve, if they do their work properly, is to leverage their privilege to carry the voices of the minority group to new audiences. It is quite easy to dismiss minority perspectives as being self-serving when oppressed groups speak out for themselves (e.g., “playing the race card”); it is much more difficult to justify outright dismissal – not that it doesn’t happen, just that the excuses need to become more convoluted. Allies are able to break through some of the status quo resistance to change by bypassing the easiest excuse: that people are cravenly advocating a position for their own selfish gain. [Read more...]

Philosophy Dudebros & Grassroots Don’t Mix

A post by Jamie

Hi-dee-ho, there, FreeThoughtBorg. I know a lot of you are eager to-be activists and even more of you have a lot of philosophy under your belt buckles. But you may not know yet that being Philosophy Dudebro in a grassroots action is terribad form. And if you don’t yet know this, you need to know this. Thus, I am writing to address you today with why that is, using my experiences over the past year in pro-choice activism to provide a context. For anyone who can’t guess from the choice in terminology alone, a Philosophy Dudebro is any guy who walks up to either a demonstration being attended by a grassroots counter-protest (think pro-life and pro-choice in the same space) or a grassroots demonstration on its own (think isolated pro-choice demo) with the expectation of unlimited time, energy, and attention for playing around with thought experiments and endless debate (see also: not protesting; pointless exercise; mental masturbation). Both pro-lifers and men who consider themselves pro-choice (but who haven’t checked their male privilege at any time in the past decade) do the Philosophy Dudebro thing, and it’s equally antagonizing no matter where on the issue your politics align. Some so-called “pro-choice” Philosophy Dudebros can’t even stop themselves from their pointless exercise when they finally stop engaging the pro-lifers.

Trigger warning: This post makes brief mention of graphic depictions of genocide, ethnic cleansing, mass murder, and abortion—one of these things is not like the others—in the context of these histories being blatantly misappropriated by “pro-life” campaigns to “unmask the genocide” and “end the killing”. It’s disgusting. It’s beyond words. In fact, it’s just plain obscene. This is why I treat the entire pro-life movement as a hate movement of Westboro Baptist Church calibre.

Tone Police warning: I’m using a fair amount of profanity in this post because I am aggressively challenging the blood-boiling sexism embedded in this issue. This choice is deliberate but well-controlled and not at all impulsive. I am not going to play nice with people who critique the tone of my delivery, so just don’t bother.

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Required Reading: Deconstructing ‘Masculinity’

One of the important roles for male feminists is to use our male privilege as a means of cutting through some of the most cynical dismissals of feminist positions. When anti-feminists can’t say “well she’s just saying that because women are trying to oppress men”, they have to find more convoluted (and increasingly less probable) explanations for their reflexive dismissal. By providing obvious counter-examples to the meme that feminists are just women who hate men, male feminists have the opportunity to ‘signal boost’ the messages from other feminists.

But a role that I think is increasingly relevant (or, at least one that I am becoming more aware of) is that of providing male critiques of the way in which masculinity myths fail to serve men. There are no shortage of harmful myths about how women ‘should’ be, and we should be combatting them vigorously – they often place women in situations that are disempowering and often dangerous. At the same time, there is room in feminist discourse to turn the analytical tools of gender critique on all constructs of gender. Today I want to walk through two examples of doing just that: [Read more...]

Special Feature: Crommunist goes to Chicago

So as many of you probably know, I was in Chicago this past week, taking part in a panel about atheism and social justice at DePaul University. I also got a chance to discover a little bit about the city while I was there. What follows is a re-cap of my time there.

The Panel

If you haven’t already, you should read the liveblog version of the event from fellow FTBorg Miri Mogilevsky. Unfortunately, there was no video of the talk, so Miri’s recap is the closest you’re going to get to seeing it. Despite what I said in the comments, I was not drunk during the talk – I’m just that incoherent in person.

First off, I have to say what an immense honour and privilege it was to be invited to speak at the event. I was even more flattered to be included on a panel that included Anthony Pinn and Sikivu Hutchinson, two people whose work has influenced my own profoundly. I have had the opportunity to interact with Sikivu before, and she was exactly as brilliant and insightful in person as I remember from our last encounter. She does the same thing that Christopher Hitchens is noted for – she speaks in paragraphs, and her writing could have been transcribed from her speaking (or vice versa).

Meeting Dr. Pinn was a trip, because he’s ‘Tony’, this extremely laid-back and affable guy when we’re just hanging out, and then someone mentions something that is relevant to his work and he becomes ‘Doctor Pinn’ – the Rice Endowed Chair who is dropping knowledge like an over-encumbered librarian. It’s amazing to watch. For the record, I couldn’t tell you which one I like more – both Tony and Doctor Pinn are fascinating and great people to be around in their own right. [Read more...]

New required reading: Why Don’t Women Speak Out About Sexual Harassment? Here’s why

I realize that talking about sexual harassment is sooo ‘last year’, but there still remains a sizeable contingent of the atheist (and non-atheist) community that thinks that reports of sexual harassment at conventions is overblown, and does not merit a response or even a robust discussion. The prevailing thought repeatedly comes back to “just report it”, with the corresponding assertion that since we are not awash in reports of harassment, harassment doesn’t exist. Absence of evidence (of that specific kind) is evidence of absence, so anyone who complains about it should just STFU.

To put it another way,

The world is fundamentally fair when it comes to reporting sexual harassment. Harassment claims are handled with appropriate gravity, and claims can be properly adjudicated according to the abundance of evidence that exists when harassment takes place. True claims are not (or very rarely) dismissed or explained away by blaming the victim. The absence of verified claims is therefore a valid indicator of the lack of real harassment. Those who speak about harassment in the absence of verifiable evidence are therefore lying in order to destroy the movement.

It does not occur to people that, because victims of harassment very rarely have video/tape recording of every interaction they’ve ever had with another person, and because harassers rarely target people when there are witnesses around, “true” harassment claims are very difficult to separate from “false” ones. As a result, the level of evidence they demand* is either by definition impossible to produce, or only possible in the most egregious of circumstances. An approach is needed that allows victims of harassment to feel comfortable that filing a report will have a meaningful result, rather than triggering an avalanche of suspicion and victim blaming.

The “just report it” response breaks down even further when issues of power and authority are involved, as we have seen recently.

But maybe mine is not the word you want to take for it: [Read more...]

Atheism is a social justice issue

This is part of a series of articles intended to illustrate the usefulness of treating atheism as a social justice issue, rather than trying to wall atheist discourse off from social justice discussions. Read the introductory post here. Read the second post here. Read the third post here. Read the fourth post here.

What I hope we have seen from the previous examples is that, in the exact same way that race ‘intersects’ with LGBT issues, or that class ‘intersects’ with gender issues, religion is tied up in other so-called ‘social justice’ topics. Insofar as no social justice issue can truly be well understood without an appreciation for the differential ways they impact other groups, it is impossible to understand and intelligently critique religion without first learning to identify and analyze the other elements that ‘intersect’ it.

I certainly cannot speak on behalf of all atheists – perhaps there are indeed people who enjoy talking about their non-belief with the same rough intent as people who collect stamps or build ships in bottles. They may not care at all about what other people believe, so long as they are allowed to pursue their atheism hobby unmolested. If such people exist, I have not come across them – although I consequently wouldn’t, so maybe that’s a Catch-22. My experience of organized atheism, and of the far-less-organized world of online atheism, is that atheists believe passionately in secular government and that religion deserves public criticism. It is to these atheists that this series is addressed. [Read more...]

Atheism is a social justice issue – colonialism edition

This is part of a series of articles intended to illustrate the usefulness of treating atheism as a social justice issue, rather than trying to wall atheist discourse off from social justice discussions. Read the introductory post here. Read the second post here. Read the third post here.

One of the social justice issues that I have become increasingly aware of, as a direct consequence of aboriginal activist groups in North America and Africa, is the issue of colonialism. The fact is that, with only a handful of exceptions, our current geopolitical system carries with it a legacy of colonization by various European powers as they attempted to expand their domain and their powers. Indeed, even our very idea of what a nation is has been essentially cribbed wholesale from the colonial powers. Because we exist in a history and an existential philosophy that was created by the colonizers, identifying colonialism is often quite difficult. Its effects, however, are easy to observe (if not to properly attribute).

Even the most cursory examination of the history of colonialism will stand testament to the fact that religion is a major and intrinsic component of colonialism. During the physical colonization of Africa, Asia, and the Americas, religion provided not only a major source of the justification for the domination of the people aboriginal to that region (i.e., the need to ‘Christianize’ and ‘save’ those people), but informed the mechanism of action (e.g., foreign missionaries, residential schools, destruction/adaptation of local religions/customs). It is not possible to understand religion without understanding colonialism, and vice versa.

Which is why this ‘contribution’ from atheist standard-bearer Dr. Richard Dawkins was so ill-conceived: [Read more...]

Atheism is a social justice issue – race edition

This is part of a series of articles intended to illustrate the usefulness of treating atheism as a social justice issue, rather than trying to wall atheist discourse off from social justice discussions. Read the introductory post here. Read the second post here.

One of the most common critiques of discussing issues of race in atheist communities is that it is ‘divisive’. For a moment, I will hold my bile and grant the most generous interpretation of this kind of statement – since race is not a valid reason to divide groups of people, we should not treat people from different racial groups differently; discussing race divides the population into arbitrary groups, and that’s not fair. The reason that it is almost exclusively white people who make this statement is perfectly illustrative of the problem with it: race may not be a morally valid way of dividing the population, but racialized people are acutely aware of the fact that it does divide the population. Pretending that isn’t so does not somehow make the effect disappear.

At her new blog Freethoughtify, Bridget Gaudette tries to tackle this meme head-on: [Read more...]