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We need to talk!

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I know that it has been a really long time since I have written a post, I guess I didn’t feel like I had anything important to say… Recently I have found myself revisiting music and writers that first gave me that desire to fuck shit up and try to make this world a much more open and welcoming place for everyone. I relived that rush that I felt when I found myself in a sweaty room with people that shared my politics, and realized that I was not alone. It is such a great thing to be able to submerge and find refuge in a world that shares your politics and where you are able to grow without fear of judgement, but I am finding that it can also have a negative effect, me being the first to admit this guilt and apathy that has blindsided me for a while now.

I fell on this great article by Amy Adoyzie that shook me. It made me really look at the scene that I associate myself with and what I am really contributing to it. The article Our Booties Ourselves is more a discourse about women and gender politics (their place in the punk rock community), but there is something that she says at the beginning of the article that I would like to share with you.

It really is about time for me to realize that all the self-imposed body criticism needs to go. But sometimes it’s difficult even to acknowledge that we’re tough on ourselves because we—as women involved in punk rock, and as women in general—have to navigate in a world that has become so increasingly self-aware to the point where we think we’re post-gender, post-race, post-all-the-fucked-upness-that-we’re-not-really-post-anything. It creates a space where we don’t discuss these things because we’re supposed to be so over it. But I’m not over it. I’m just getting to it and I don’t give a fuck if you don’t want to hear it because you can turn the page anytime.

This simple statement still swims in my head everyday as I walk to work and try to figure out when did the discussion end? It is so true, we discover these ideas when we are young and can’t shut up about it, to the point that we even start to annoy ourselves. I still remember that first time that I read Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble (thanks Jason) and I would confront everyone in my path to talk to them about how they were trying to impose hetero-normative behaviour on me or others around them, I was meant with a lot of judgment and criticism and I just didn’t give a fuck! Now I just assume that anyone at a punk show has read all the literature and is aware of what’s going on… Laura Jane Grace’s coming out as transgendered showed just how a good part of the scene was not ready to have this talk in an open and respectful space; something that should of been a given!

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Then, seeing as no one talks about many issues, we get ridiculous theories and actions like the Commensal’s flexitarian menu. This utter non-sense would not of happened with we vegan/vegetarians actually reminded why we chose a restaurant like Commensal. Now I have to enter a debate with someone about how this notion of flexitarianism is just ridiculous and a total insult to the animal rights movement. Let me explain what a flexitarian is first, it is defined as a “vegetarian” that eats meat on occasion, the last time that I checked I simply called that a carnivore. I mean, its like saying that a vegetarian only eats vegetables and tofu and carnivores only eat meat (no vegetables ever). By that definition, everyone is a flexitarian instead of vegans/vegetarians, or is this just a way to justify that the first vegetarian restaurant chain in Quebec is now like any other restaurant? The worst in all of this, when vegetarians wrote to the Commensal about their outrage, they were told that their choice was so everyone could come eat at their restaurants; because people have to ingest meat at every meal? They seriously can’t sit and enjoy a meal that honours their friend’s choice to live a compassionate lifestyle? My question is, what kind of friend is that? I am exposed to dead animals everywhere that I go to eat, except for the refuge of plant based restaurants, don’t I have to right to be the majority some times? Do I always have to be seen as a disturbance or an extra detail to complicate things? I have been excluded from many social activities because of my life choice and I don’t regret one exclusion, because I am comfortable with my choices, are you?

Also, lately I have been confronted by people, that I consider friends, to be gay because I refuse to participate in the “masculine” activity of the evening and spend time around a table with women and have a conversation. I never knew that games only belonged to heterosexual me, I am shocked to still be confronted with this kind of attitude in 2013; I thought and assumed that we were way past the idea of making activities gender specific. I have not always acted in the most skillful ways, I have even been downright aggressive, but I was so taken a back to think that someone that I consider an equal and friend would see the world like that…

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So, I think that I have bitched and ranted long enough for tonight, what is my point? A good question! I have realized that I must get back on the right path, to not be indifferent about my issues and assume that the people around have progressive gender politics, progressive racial politics, progressive food politics; I have to get the conversation going! At least, I know that I will be challenging people to look outside of themselves and what they view as the “normal” point of view! The thing that still brings me the most growth and satisfaction is to simply challenge myself and take time to wrestle with these things… I hope that you will spark a conversation with someone tomorrow that will make you both get down to the real issues, because that is were the growth and unity truly arise! I am going to leave you all now with a great Black Flag quote : ” Swimming in the mainstream, such a lame dream”… Don’t be afraid to move to the fringes and really get the conversation going!

I read this afternoon that a group of big retailers will need to change their signs in Quebec to accommodate language laws that are in place. Costco, Best Buy, Gap, Old Navy, Guess and Wal-Mart are asking Quebec’s superior court whether the Office Québécoise de la Langue Française (OQLF) has the right to demand such changes to their trademarks. The OQLF wants these businesses to add French generics to their trademark, something that has been pretty common in recent years after crackdowns by French-language authorities. These generics are usually terms that describe the service or product sold by the retailer or a descriptive term that is added under a trademark name. A good example of this is Second Cup and its recently added “les cafés” before its name in order to comply with language laws. I have always wondered why a registered trademark would have to be translated, when I went to France KFC was KFC and McDonald’s was McDonald’s, people didn’t seem to have a hard time understanding what was being sold or what service was available. This is tiresome and unnecessary. The PQ is simply attempting to stir up old antagonisms. I would submit that the province has bigger issues to deal with (like the 30 000 homeless in Montreal). Language however, is a touchy and hot topic in Canada and always has been…

I find the language debate in Canada, and especially in Quebec, to be a difficult reality for me. Let me explain a little, I think that context is extremely important for this subject. Canada has always been divided about language and by default culture; we are a multicultural nation and it is normal that we may not agree with everyone on what Canada is or what it means to be Canadian. I am from New Brunswick, I am Acadian, language and my identity tied to my language has been a life long struggle. I grew up in a family where my mother’s side was francophone and my father’s side was anglophone, so I learned both languages at the same time as a child to be able to communicate with my relatives. My parents wanted what was best for me, so I went to school from pre-kindergarden to end of highschool in french (which was considered a school of privilege, a fact that I would be reminded of often by some of the neighbourhood english kids) and then did my university in english. So you could almost say that I am the poster child for the language debate, I am proud of my Acadian roots and my Anglo-Saxon roots, I believe that this is what makes my country great. I must admit that I have never been on the right side however, and this has made me the victim of bullying on both sides of the language spectrum.

As a child in NB I got beat up, called names like “frog, French fag, faggot, etc.” for being French. There were fights during my lunch hours where kids from the English school would come down to our school and pick a victim and beat them up as a group, it used to be called “Frog Bashing” (I actually have a dent on my forehead thanks to a skateboard to the head during one of these infamous bashings). My first “political” activity was egging the house of a COR NB party candidate during a provincial election campaign that happened to fall near Halloween. For those of you unfamiliar with New Brunswick politics; in the late 1980s, support for Premier Richard Hatfield and his Progressive Conservatives has collapsed because of corruption scandals in their government. As well, many English-speaking New Brunswickers were unhappy with the government’s promotion of official bilingualism (the use of English and French in public services). COR promised to repeal the 1969 Official Languages Act, which made french equal for official purposes with english on a province-wide basis. COR proposed providing government services only in areas that are mostly Francophones. The french speaking Acadian population believed this to be an anti-francophone policy, so the COR party had no support in areas with large francophone populations.

New Brunswick is officially bilingual since 1969, something that the Acadian population had to fight long and hard to achieve. I have always associated with the Acadian identity, a nation that was deported and destroyed and somehow survived against all odds. This Official Languages Act is a huge victory for a nation that was shipped off to all ends of the world, some were lucky enough to hide and continue this wonderful culture. So you can all imagine my joy and excitement to move to Montreal in Quebec for my Master’s degree, I would finally no longer be a minority but a francophone just like everyone else, I would be able to live in french. I was devastated to be welcomed as an anglophone when I arrived in Montreal, being served by people in broken-up english in stores, I didn’t understand what was going on…

I was later explained by people who, seeing as how I did not have a Quebec accent, that I had to be an anglophone, I did not even have the chance to prove my french roots: I was already labeled as a bloke (btw to all of you who insult anglophones with this term, it is simply an informal term for man or boy). I still to this day get called an anglophone on an almost daily basis, even by people who know me and know that I am an Acadian. I am not a Separatist, I do not believe that Montreal is english (I find that it is a beautiful mixture of french, english, creole, arab, and many other languages and cultures), I find that there are more important things for us to figure out before we start talking about a country that is Quebec. I have a question for the Quebecers out there: What are you so afraid of? French is abundant and strong, take it from the Acadians that survive in an Anglo-Saxon world and still maintain a beautiful and rich culture. Also, I have heard many times by Sovereignists that they would work with First Nations to insure a compromise if Quebec became a state, why are you not trying to find compromise with anglophone Canadians? Is it still because of a war that happened hundreds of years ago? Isn’t it time to pick yourselves up by your boot straps and try to find peace? I find that Quebec is still morning a defeat that occurred hundreds of years ago, Acadians I find celebrate the culture that somehow survived after a mass deportation and oppression. I think that you could learn a lot from these francophone neighbours.

Also, I find that nationalism is dangerous; more and more I am finding what I find to be xenophobic and racists comments by people around me or even politicians. This last provincial election was filled with hate speech and close-minded arguments. It breaks my heart to see people act hateful towards anyone that is not them. I find that more and more we are faced with an “us” vs “them” debate in this province and I can only see bad things come out of it. It is Ok to fight for what you believe in, but it is best to do it with everyone’s happiness in mind. My mother speaks with great pride about how her province is officially bilingual, something that she didn’t always have, but that she is thankful to have today.

I wait and hope for the day where I will be recognized as the francophone that I am, even if it is different from the definition that others have… Just because I’m different does not mean that I am not what I identify myself to be… I still believe that Quebec is a multi-cultural society, even if my Premier says that it is not a Quebec value… I also hope that one day our federal government will recognize Acadians like a nation, just like our neighbours Quebec. I am however, never interested in separating from this country; a nation is stronger than a country.

«Les Acadiens sont un peuple, et un peuple est plus fort qu’un Pays. Un Pays est une institution, mais un peuple est plus fort qu’une institution, car il a une âme, il a des rêves, il est vivant….» (Antonine Maillet)

 

As we all got to read this week, the Harper government canceled all non-Christian chaplain positions in federal penitentiaries. Having been involved in the Federal system by bringing meditation to inmates in medium security penitentiaries, I am extremely saddened by this move by Harper and his goons and their continuous crusade to cut all social programs that help those in greatest need. I have seen first hand the benefits bringing meditation and other religious perspectives in penitentiaries, helping inmates make peace with their troubled past and their long healing process that they face. I have been trying to get back in federal penitentiaries since Harper has been elected with a majority government and keep being met with obstacle after obstacle with cut after cut in programs to insure that inmates are denied basic human rights in terms of faith, something that Harper might believe is still respected if they have access to Christian guidance (but tell me how a Buddhist is to get guidance in meditation from someone who believes that the inmate will be going to hell seeing as how he doesn’t follow the teaching of HIS lord and saviour?). Before I continue, I think that it is best that I take a few minutes to explain the Canadian penitentiary system, its history more specifically.

The penitentiary was first introduced by the Philadelphia Quakers in 1789 as a more humane alternative to the harsh punishments of the time. The Quakers believed that a sentence of imprisonment, served under conditions of isolation, with opportunities for work and religious contemplation, would render the offender “penitent” and reformed. In New York, the penitentiary sentence was adopted out of a belief that work and training would lead to a reduction in the crime rate. The idea of sentencing offenders to long terms of imprisonment spread next to England as an alternative to exiling offenders to the colonies. Imprisonment as we know it in Canada today dates back to the building of the Kingston Penitentiary in 1835. For more than 30 years, Kingston Penitentiary was operated as a provincial jail until the passage of the British North America Act (1867) established federal and provincial responsibilities for justice.

With passage of the first Penitentiary Act (1868), Kingston and two other pre-Confederation prisons in St. John, New Brunswick and Halifax, Nova Scotia were brought under federal jurisdiction, creating a federal penitentiary system “for the establishment, maintenance and management of penitentiaries for offenders sentenced to two years or more.” Construction of federal institutions started in 1873 with St. Vincent de Paul (now Laval Institution). Three more institutions followed: Manitoba Penitentiary (now Stony Mountain Institution) opened in 1877, British Columbia Penitentiary a year later, and Dorchester Penitentiary (New Brunswick) in 1880. All were maximum-security institutions, administered by a strict regime—productive labour during the day, solitary confinement during leisure time. A rule of silence was enforced at all times. Parole did not exist, although inmates could have three days a month remitted from their sentence for good conduct.

In the Depression years of the 1930s, a rash of inmate strikes and riots focussed attention on penal philosophy and management style and lead to the formation of the Archambault Royal Commission of Inquiry. With its emphasis on crime prevention and the rehabilitation of offenders, the Commission’s 1928 report was  a landmark in Canadian corrections and much of its philosophy remains influential today. Among the Commission’s recommendations was the complete revision of penitentiary regulations to provide “strict but humane discipline and the reformation and rehabilitation of prisoners.” In many ways, the Archambault report reflected a society that had become less concerned with retribution and more with rehabilitation. But the priorities of a nation at war superseded penal reform, and few of the Archambault report’s recommendations were implemented.

Following World War II, rising prison populations, overcrowding, and prison disturbances spurred the creation in 1953 of the Fauteaux Committee for another investigation into the correctional system. The Fauteaux Committee envisaged a new type of prison that would not merely be a facility for custody, but also a place of “worthwhile and creative activity” with programs focussing on the attempt to change the basic behaviour, attitudes and patterns of inmates. The nature of prisons had to change in order to make these programs work and to provide opportunities for vocational training, pre-release and after-care programs. Most importantly, prisons needed more and better-trained professional staff in such fields as social work, psychology, psychiatry, criminology and law.

The recommendations of the Fauteaux Committee initiated a new era of legislative and institutional reform and expansion. During this time:

  • The National Parole Board was established as an independent body to exercise authority over the parole of inmates.
  • The Penitentiary Act was amended (1961) to establish new procedures for the operation of penitentiaries and other reforms.
  • A plan (1963) to construct 10 new penitentiaries across Canada that reflected the Fauteaux Committee’s vision for Canada’s prisons was implemented.

In 1976, continuing deficiencies in the correctional system were manifested in a series of disturbances that lead to a new approach in the management of Canadian correction institutions. The new approach was based on the belief that many of the abuses in the system would not take place if proper public accountability existed and public involvement in correctional policy development was sought. Consequently, access to penitentiaries by outside groups was expanded and citizens’ advisory committees were established.

This brief history is brought to us by Corrections Canada, which obviously makes us believe that inmates are treated well and that they only have the inmates health and well-being in mind. I must disagree with this perception, I have seen inmates be denied help and treated with less than humane techniques. One of the most blatant inhumane techniques that I must speak out against is the isolation treatment that is still status quo in all Canadian penitentiaries, as a form of rehabilitation and which takes no consideration of the actual damage that it does to the people who are victims to this “treatment”.

Here are some quick facts about Solitary Confinement, it exists in many penitentiaries under different names: isolation, control units, supermax prisons, the hole, SHUs, administrative segregation, maximum security or permanent lockdown. Inmates can be placed in these units for many reasons; as punishment, while they are under investigation, as a mechanism for behavior modification, when suspected of gang involvement, as retribution for political activism or to fill expensive, empty beds, to name but a few. Although conditions vary from penitentiary to penitentiary and other institutions, systematic policies and conditions of control and oppression used in isolation and segregation include:

  • confinement behind a solid steel door for 23 hours a day
  • limited contact with other human beings
  • infrequent phone calls and rare non-contact family visits
  • extremely limited access to rehabilitative or educational programming
  • grossly inadequate medical and mental health treatment
  • restricted reading material and personal property
  • physical torture such as hog-tying, restraint chairs, and forced cell extraction
  • mental torture such as sensory deprivation, permanent bright lighting, extreme temperatures, and forced insomnia
  • sexual intimidation and violence

Beginning in the early 1970s, prison and jail administrators at the federal level have relied increasingly on isolation and segregation to control men, women and youth in their custody. In 1985 there were a handful of control units across the United States (could not find stats for Canada in regards to this, but it should be similar with population taken into consideration). Today an estimated 44 states have supermax facilities confining more than 30,000 people. Prisoners are often confined for months or even years, with some spending more than 25 years in segregated prison settings. As with the overall prison population, people of color are disproportionately represented in isolation units.

Increasingly isolation units house the mentally ill who struggle to conform to prison rules. An independent investigation from 2006 reported that as many as 64% of prisoners in SHUs were mentally ill, a much higher percentage than is reported by states for their general prison populations. Contrary to the perception that control units house “the worst of the worst’, it is often the most vulnerable prisoners, not the most violent who end up in extended isolation. The AFSC Healing Justice staff worked with 60 Minutes on the production of The Death of Timothy Souders, a riveting testimony. Numerous studies have documented the effects of solitary confinement on prisoners giving them the name; Special Housing Unit Syndrome or SHU Syndrome. Some of the many SHU Syndrome symptoms include:

  • visual and auditory hallucinations
  • hypersensitivity to noise and touch
  • insomnia and paranoia
  • uncontrollable feelings of rage and fear
  • distortions of time and perception
  • increased risk of suicide
  • PTSD

If one is not mentally ill when entering an isolation unit, by the time they are released their mental health has been severely compromised. Many prisoners are released directly to the streets after spending years in isolation. Because of this, long-term solitary confinement goes beyond a problem of prison conditions, to pose a formidable public safety and community health problem.

Prison isolation fits the definition of torture as stated in several international human rights treaties, and thus constitutes a violation of human rights law. For example, the U.N. Convention Against Torture defines torture as any state-sanctioned act “by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person” for information, punishment, intimidation, or for a reason based on discrimination. For all these reasons – for the safety of our communities, to respect our responsibility to follow international human rights law, to take a stand against torture wherever it occurs, and for the sake of our common humanity – prison isolation and segregation must end.

Just like Segregation is a violation of human rights I believe that this last cut is yet another attack towards inmate rehabilitation and helping to assure that they will be able to integrate into society when they have finished their sentence. The contracts were cut after Toews suspended plans to hire a Wiccan prison chaplain in B.C. and ordered a review of the entire program last month. “Upon reviewing the program, it was determined that changes were necessary so that this program supports the freedom of religion of inmates while respecting taxpayers’ dollars,” said Bergen.

But Liberal justice and human rights critic Irwin Cotler responded that “requiring inmates of other faiths to turn to Christian chaplains for religious guidance is clearly discriminatory.” “The Minister of Public Safety says that he is ‘not in the business of picking and choosing which religions will be given preferential status’ – but by providing funding for Christian chaplains only, he is doing precisely that,” said Cotler. In question period NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar questioned how much money the government was saving by cutting 100 part-time positions. “This is not a costly program. The minister has no justification for cutting it,” said Dewar. The total cost of the chaplain program, including full-time and part-time positions, is about $6.4 million a year. The part-time contracts represent approximately $1.3 million of that total, the Public Safety Ministry said on Friday morning.

Outside of parliament the cuts also spark strong reactions from religious leaders. David Koschitzky, chair of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said access to appropriate religious counselling in prison was key to many inmates’ rehabilitation. “It is no stretch to say that chaplains are at the forefront of the rehabilitation process, and work every day to ensure that inmates awaiting release have the tools they need to avoid re-offending,” said Koschitzky. “While this is a matter of protecting freedom of religion, there is also an important aspect of public safety at stake in this decision.” Sikh and Muslim leaders have also called the program’s cancellation discriminatory.

I find that Canada needs to review its whole penitentiary system and its programs for rehabilitation, we should be leading the way in more  humane and efficient way to assure that people first of all are not placed in penitentiaries, by creating a more equal and just society; and also assuring that inmates are just stored in federal penitentiaries like unwanted furniture for a selected period of time. Let us not forget that there is also a huge homelessness crisis happening all over the world, in Montreal alone there are about 30 000 homeless people for a city population of about 1.8 million (don’t try to tell me that we don’t have to do anything about this), which makes certain people turn towards a life a crime when they are simply desperate and out of ideas… I will talk about the homelessness crisis next time… But for now. talk to your MPs or even Stephen Harper if he is willing to listen, we need to take care of your citizens and assure that they have the best chance to redeem themselves and become a productive member of society again… Lets show the world that we can be a society that is compassionate and open-minded, who are we to judge what spiritual guidance one needs?

I had the pleasure of seeing Michel Onfray speak last night in Montreal, a philosopher that I admire greatly. He is the first voice that I have heard in a long time, besides Chris Hedges, that speaks to me directly and holds an understanding of the world very similar to mine. It is always great to hear oneself in the words of someone much more eloquent, but it is also such a special moment when we read someone who understands our idols like us. One thing that I admire most of Onfray is his mission to make philosophy accessible to everyone, much like Camus who believed that we should ensure that philosophy does not only stay in the hands of the professionals, when this is the norm we are faced with philosophers who write for philosophers only and what is the point of that? Michel Onfray, to continue with this personal mission, founded the tuition-free Université Populaire at Caen where he and several colleagues teach philosophy and other subjects. The Université Populaire, which is open to all who cannot access the state university system, and on principle does not accept any money from the State – Onfray uses the profits from his books to help finance it – has had enormous success. This concept and specific inception is based on Onfray’s book La Communauté Philosophique: Manifeste pour l’Université Populaire (2004).

I find this concept to be exciting and necessary, especially in these – Occupy Wall Street, Maple Springs – reactionary times, the popular university in an incredible tool to be able to offer an education by the people for the people. I used to feel uncomfortable with the elitism that permeated my Master’s philosophy classes, the notion that specialized language – which alienates anyone that has no working knowledge of the material – somehow gave it validity and helped to reinforce the academic ivory towers. Camus was of the same opinion if you ask me, that is why he said repeatedly that he was not a philosopher, if we use a Hegel or Sartre as an example, writing texts that are extremely complexes and lost in specialized vocabularies, then yes I agree that he was most definitely not a philosopher. Also, this type of philosopher would say that it is a completely cerebral activity; one of writing books that no one really understands except for the small circle of contemporaries. Camus, on the other hand, lived his philosophy. He believed like Nietzsche that he had to say Yes to life and wrestle with these ideas every day in all situations and expressing in diverse mediums – novels, essay, plays, articles – and with a language that tried to include everyone in the debate. Always focusing on the human – whether it be the human sentiments felt during the Algerian war for independence or any other situation where one had to look at the world with honest eyes – was always a priority for Camus.

If we are to continue these micro revolutions (Maple Spring, the Occupy movement), we must assure that philosophy and other revolutionary ideas be brought to the general public and out of the hands of the professionals. Caen was the first popular university, there are already other copies that have sprung up in France in Lyon, Narbonne, Arras, and other cities, and I was pleased to find out that there is also one in Montreal. This movement must not lose momentum, and it can bring a milieu where people can gather and contribute in the development of radical ideas and theories. With these “institutions” we can work to rehabilitate materialist and sensualist thinking and use it to re-examine our relationship to the world. Approaching philosophy as a reflection of each individual’s personal experience, inquiring into the capabilities of the body and its senses and encourage society to celebrate them through music, painting, and cuisine.

I am calling for a postanarchism, I advocate an anarchism in line with Orwell, Simone Weil, Jean Grenier, Foucault, Deleuze, Guattari; a Nietzschean revolt in order to put an end to the “One” truth, revealed, and to put in evidence the diversity of truths, to help make disappear ascetic Christian ideas and to help arise new possibilities of existence. This is a call to everyone, people sick of living in this unjust world. Michel Onfray is accused of not being 100% objective in his works, when he despise someone he really tears them a new one (i.e. – Freud, Sartre), and when he admires someone he will paint a generous picture of them as people and their philosophies (i.e. – Camus, Nietzsche). I am of the same school, it is hard for me to believe and fight for the vision of someone that did not live by their philosophy. The more that I look into the life of Camus, the more I see a generous, humble, and moral man; and that is how we can start this Nietzschean revolution!

Pussy riot, the Russian punk band that has been setting the international newswire on fire since their arrest in February started their trial on Monday. They are a feminist punk-rock collective that stages politically provocative impromptu performances in Moscow on subjects like the status of women in Russia, and against the election campaign of Prime Minister Putin for president of Russia. They usually dress in brightly colored dresses and tights, even during the extreme Russian winters, with faces masked by balaclavas when they either perform or give interviews under various pseudonyms. The collective is about 10 performers, and about 15 people who handle the technical work of shooting and editing their videos which then get posted on the Internet. Their influences are based in the long history of punk, but it is clear that they are more influenced by the Riot grrrl movement of the 1990s started by bands like Bikini Kill. “What we have in common is impudence, politically loaded lyrics, the importance of feminist discourse and a non-standard female image.”

February 2012, as part of the protest movement against Vladimir Putin, Pussy Riot performed a song in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. This particular song was performed in the Altar, which in Orthodox churches is a segregated, most sacred area in the church, where only priesthood is allowed. In the song, Pussy Riot pray to the “Theotokos” (Bogoroditsa) to “chase Putin out”. The words of the final christian liturgical hymn “Sanctus” (holy, holy, holy, Lord God) was changed by Pussy Riot to “shit, shit, shit of Lord God” and the patriarch in the song, mentioned earlier, is called a bitch. On March 3rd Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, two members of Pussy Riot were arrested by Russian authorities and accused of hooliganism, for which they face up to 7 years in prison. On March 16th Ekaterina Samutsevitch, who had earlier been questioned as a witness in this case, was arrested on similar charges. On June 4th they were presented with formal charges on an indictment 2 800 pages long, on July 4th they were suddenly informed that they would have to prepare their defense by July 9th. They announced a hunger strike in response, two working days in obviously an inadequate time to prepare a trial defense. On July 21st the court extended their pre-trial detention by another six months.

The members of Pussy Riot are recognized as political prisoners by the Union of Solidarity with Political Prisoners. Amnesty International has named them prisoners of conscience du to “the severity of the response of the Russian authorities”.

This has sparked a debate in Russia. The Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill I condemned Pussy Riot’s actions as blasphemous saying that the “Devil has laughed at all of us… We have no future if we allow mocking in front of great shrines, and if some see such mocking as some sort of valour, as an expression of political protest, as an acceptable action or a harmless joke.”  Thousands of Orthodox and Catholic believer,  the believers of other religions and atheists have signed a petition to Patriarch Kirill, begging the head of the Russian Orthodox Church to stand up for the girls. Daniel Sandford of the BBC said :”Their treatment has caused deep disquiet among many Russians, who feel the women are – to coin a phrase from the 1967 trial of members of the Rolling Stones – butterflies being broken on a wheel.” By late June 2012, the girls are still without a trial date and concern over what is regarded as excessive and arbitrary treatment has led to the drawing of an open letter which was even signed by Fyodor Bondarchuck, a supporter of Putin, and actors Chulpan Khamatova and Yevgeny Mironov, both of whom have appeared in videos for Putin’s re-election campaign.

The trial of Pussy Riot started in Moscow on Monday. Charged with “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred or hostility”, they face possible sentences of up to seven years of imprisonment. It is said that even the majority of people in Moscow oppose the trial, while a good part besides them are undecided. But most importantly, this trial underlines the corrupt alliance of church and state. It underscores the respective limits of polite discourse in the former Soviet state. Putin’s Russia, which increasingly is also the Mother Russia of the Orthodox Church, the cost of this transgressing of polite discourse as state-invigilated boundaries mounts.

The upping of the stakes is an outcome of cynical legalistic elegance: the formal alliance of Russia’s church and state (whose public faces are Patriarch Kirill and Vladimir Putin) now makes it possible to cast civil disobedience as blasphemy, meaning an affront to the uncriticizeable sentiments and values of Orthodox Christians. Thus the formal charge of hooliganism, serious enough in itself, is being pursued with an added vindictiveness and cost fed on the outraged sentiments of believers — for example a church security guard who now claims to suffer from insomnia brought on by the trauma of a thirty-second punk rock performance.

So, Pussy Riot, or at least the three members of the collective, are being charged for playing the song “Punk Prayer” in a Moscow church, but exactly what are they saying? I am sure that most of you also do not read Russian, so here is the translation of a part of the song; I am sure that we can now see why the church’s higher-ups are so pissed off:

The head of the KGB, their chief saint / Leads protesters to prison under escort / In order not to offend His Holiness / … The Church’s praise of rotten dictators / The cross-bearer procession of black limousines / A teacher-preacher will meet you at school / Go to class — bring him money! / Patriarch Gundyaev believes in Putin … better believe in God instead ….

Why these lyrics are great and shocking at the same time is that they simply summarize all that is rotten in Putin’s dirty realm, I think that most people have been able to see this by simply just reading a newspaper once in a while, or they must at least now. This song, or prayer, has been denounced as irreligious, but this too is a piece of propaganda. The song is concluded with the lyrics “Mary, Mother of God, is with us in protest!” and given the record of the Patriarchate, they may be on to something.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova has issued a statement asserting, “We aren’t enemies of Christians …. Our motives are exclusively political. If anyone was insulted, then I am prepared to accept that we made an ethical mistake.” She correctly observes however that this “ethical mistake” is not, and ought not to be, construed as a political crime. The only hope for these young women now is the moral authority and censure of the watching world, much of which is distracted by the spectacle of the Olympics. If the Russian state is able to make an example of these young women, it will be yet another discouraging marker along the criminal and hell-hound pathway of Russia’s dangerous decline.

 

No Gimmicks Needed

There is a lot of talk about politics and revolution in my neck of the woods these days. The “Maple Spring” seems to still be underway, a little more quiet since most students have gotten jobs for the summer, but people are still fighting for change and trying to make sure that their voices do not disappear. I find it all really interesting, I mean, we have all had this political awakening in our lives, for me it was punk rock and the anti-globalization movement of the early 2000s. Lately I have had more and more discussions about this student uprising, the occupy movement, sovereignty, and even the economic crisis happening in Europe as the Union slowly crumbles as countries are not able to survive in a system that was supposed to only bring prosperity. People seem to be waking up, and getting their political chops if you will; debates flare up in some unlikely places and I must admit that I love to egg people on or just reject anything that is suggested to me (thanks punk rock for making me want to say fuck everything!). I have been told by a lot of people that I am too radical in my views, that I should instead follow certain politicians who are clearly taken advantage of an opportunity to get votes from people who want a victory at any price, that by switching the person in charge all should fall into place.

First of all, why not? Why not demand the impossible? Why do we insist in trying to find solutions in a broken system that is clearly not working and is not planning on being fixed anytime soon. I am sick of the famous, different face same system bullshit, people want revolution than let’s do just that! This is what I am loving about the global insurgence; Occupy might be losing momentum, the “cares rouges” have also, but that does not mean that this is not a good time to start a true revolution, one where each individual can be a part of without necessarily claiming to belong to a certain group or ideology! Let’s take the power away from the few that control the majority, one insurrection that is really inspiring me right now is what is happening with the student movement in Mexico. What is being dubbed as the “Mexican Spring” is a student movement that is not fighting solely tuition hikes like most student movements in the past, they are fighting for achieving media democracy. They are demanding that media be democratized and de-corporatized, their goal is to knock out one of the core pillars, corporate television, that props up the corrupt political class. All these stories and discussions that I have been having have made me reflect on what my political position actually is, if someone were to ask me on the street what my political position was I would answer “-“.

After reflection and a lot of thought, I am a philosophy student by trade so I seriously dig that shit, thinking rules! So my answer would be: Existentialist anarchism with an Individualist anarchism tendency. I am sure some of you might be scratching your heads trying to figure it out, let me show you why this totally screams me! Those of you who know me well, probably already get it, but here is my best attempt to put my politics in a box! I believe that existentialism forms a philosophical ground for anarchism, there is a close like between the existentialists’ stress on the individual, free choice, and more responsibility and the main tenets of anarchism. My main influences, or the people who helped me shape my political vision are Nietzsche, Kafka, and Camus (of course!); I owe these philosophers a great debt of gratitude in helping open my mind and the opportunity to work out different questions that I had swimming around my head.  So let me explain what I find that they all brought to the mess that is my political position. Before we dive into the existentialists, let me briefly explain the Individualist tendency.

Individualist anarchism refers to the tradition of thought within the anarchist movement that emphasizes the individual and his or her will over external determinants such as groups, society, traditions, and ideological systems. It is not a single philosophy but refers to a group of individualistic philosophies that can sometimes come into conflict. They can all pretty much agree that the individual has the right to govern himself, all external government is tyranny. As we can see, existential anarchism is very close to this base, it is logical that I would believe in both these schools of thought.

Friedrich Nietzsche is one of the first philosophers considered fundamental to the existentialist movement, even though the movement only existed after his death, which is also when his works became known. While alive, Nietzsche was frequently associated with anarchist movements and proved influential for many anarchist thinkers, in spite of the fact that in this writings he seems to have a negative view of anarchists. This was the result of a popular association during this period between his ideas and those of Max Stirner (another very well-known anarchist thinker , known for his idea that advocates concrete individual existence, or egoism, against most commonly accepted social institutions—including the notion of State, property as a right, natural rights in general, and the very notion of society—which he considers mere spooks or essences in the mind). Nietzsche’s Übermensch was representative of the freedom of people to define the nature of their own existence, as well as the desire for a new human who was neither master nor slave. Nietzsche idealized individual invents his or her values and creates the very terms under which they excel, all the while taking no regard for God, the State, or the social behaviour of herds. Nietzsche was thus able to show the clear commonality between anarchists and existentialists, and thus his draw from both movements.

Franz Kafka attended meetings of a Czech anarchist, anti-militarist and anti-clerical organization and who ofter cite the influence of anarchist philosopher Peter Kropotkin during these various meetings. Kafka’s work is most often about surreal and alienated characters who struggle with hopelessness and absurdity, themes that are cornerstones to existentialism, and at the same time presented critiques of the authoritarian family (Metamorphosis) and bureaucracy (The Trial), which he had strong views as institutions. Family life was a battleground, he viewed parents as persecutors, and that all they wanted to do is drag one down to them, back to the old days from which one longs to be become free and escape. This view of the family is said to have been influenced by Otto Gross, and Austrian anarchist and psychoanalyst, who blended Nietzsche and Stirner with Freud in developing his own libertarian form of psychology, one that stated that the human potential was frustrated by the authoritarian family. Kafka would also define capitalism as a bureaucracy as a system of relations of dependence where everything is arranged hierarchically and everything is in chains; in the end the chains of tortured humanity are made of the official papers of ministries.

Camus did reject the term existentialist, but he is considered to be an integral part of the existentialist movement. He concerned his works with facing what he called the absurd and how we should act to rebel against absurdity by living and opening up the road to freedom without transcendent reality. He was associated with the French anarchist movement, he was introduced to the Anarchist Student Circle as a sympathiser familiar with anarachist thought. He wrote for anarchist publications like Le Libertaire, La revolution Proletarienne and Solidaridad Obrera, he also stood with the anarchists when they expressed support for the uprising of the 1953 in East Germany. He would also become allied with the anarchists in 1956, in support of the workers’ uprising in Poland and then a year later with the Hugarian Revolution.

It is clear that the most substantial expression of his existentialist and anarchist positions are in his work The Rebel. For Camus, as for Nietzsche, rebellion should not delve into nihilism, and as Stirner would say, it should be distinct from revolution. It is not a lonely act, and does not destroy human solidarity but affirms the common nature of human beings. The experience of the absurd, that suffering is individual, but when it moves to rebellion, it is aware of being collective. The first step of the individual is to recognize that he or she shares such alienation with all human beings. Rebellion thus takes the individual out of isolation :”I rebel, therefore we exist”. At the end of the book Camus celebrates the anti-authoritarian spirit of history and comes out in favour of anarcho-syndicalism as the only real alternative: “Trade-unionism, like the commune, is the negation, to the benefit of reality, of abstract and bureaucratic centralism.”

I know that it is a lot to chew, but seeing that this notion of the anti-authoritarian struggle has been around for a long time and keep shifting and changing with time; all I know is that thanks to these dudes I have a much more convicted perspective and have taken what they have taught me and I have continued the evolution of these thoughts to help me make sense of this world and to give it some meaning. I still strongly believe that governement is a system of violence and oppression; it insures to oppress women with it suppression of their rights, maintains a systematic racist policy that insures that all minorities are denied their rights, that wages a war on its poor and ensuring that their is no possibility of advancement for them to better their lives, that enforces its imperialist goals abroad with capitalism and war. The list could go on, but I think that I might actually leave the last words to Chumbawamba (yes its the band from the ninetees with “I Get Knocked Down”, but they were actually a cool punk band with good things to say in the eighties…):

“Capitalism and Imperialism are dirty words. So our leaders and their advertising agencies fished around and stole a couple of words from here and there. Words like ‘Freedom’, and ‘Truth’… and thereon used them to describe every aspect of their unfree, dishonest government. The principles which the American state stands for have nothing to do with “freedom and democracy for theirs” – the US system and its European lap-dogs stand for the murder, oppression and exploitation of both its own citizens and people elsewhere.
Don’t forget it.” – Chumbawamba

Remember where you were the first time that you heard that first punk rock song? The first official punk song that I heard was We’re Only Gonna Die by Bad Religion, I had however  heard many metal covers of punk classics like Last Caress/Green Hell by Metallica. The first song by a punk band though belongs to Bad Religion, and I will always remember where I was and the feeling that came over me. I was at my friend Brandon’s house and he had taken a dub tape from his brother’s room, the sense of urgency just wanted to make me go out there and fuck some shit up! That summer afternoon forever changed me and began the journey that I have been following ever since for truth and change. It got me to thinking, what is the true essence and purpose to this social movement? As we all know, here in North America at least, it has pretty much been co-opted and become just another flavour/option in your closet. We are now caught up in debates over what is “real” punk and whatever commercial radio is telling us what punk is, I’m looking at you the Sum 41’s and Simple Plan’s of the world, so what is this real punk that was so dangerous 35 years ago? This weekend is the 35th anniversary of the Sex Pistols’ arrest because of their attempt of playing their version of God Save The Queen down the Thames river on a boat, it was at this moment that punk rock’s political snarl had never been louder. You will not hear of these types of actions in the US and the UK these days, the birthplace of the punk rock movement, the snarl has become nothing more than a whimper.

Look to Moscow, where three women have been detained and face up to seven years in prison because their band, Pussy Riot, staged an anti-Putin “punk prayer” in a cathedral. Amnesty International now classifies them as prisoners of conscience. Next is Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where six months ago officers hauled more than 60 punk off to re-education camps, sheared off their Mohawks, removed their piercings and forced them to bathe, change clothes and pray. Or Iraq, where human rights groups report that dozens of emo kids, the followers of punk’s tender-hearted offshoot, have been slain by extremists since February, when the government’s interior ministry released a statement equating emo style with devil worship. Burmese punk bands have to practice in secrecy to avoid arrest. Rebel Riot told a German magazine Der Spiegel, “In Burma, punk is not a game.” At the top of Cuba’s dissident music scene, Porno para Ricardo play nose-thumbing punk anthems despite years of police harassment, including lead singer Gorki Aguila’s latest arrest in February. Members of the Iranian punk rock band The Yellow Dogs have recently won asylum after fleeing from Tehran two years again, where playing rock music is punishable by flogging, fines, and jail time.

I am then remembered of the last time that I was down on the Bowery in Lower Manhattan, when I was shocked to see a high-end menswear boutique with 1 000$ jackets hanging against brick walls covered in seditious scrawls and yellowing concert posters.  The bored-looking clerk sitting on a small stage that looks like a replica from a club, but this use to be a club: the former home of CBGB, the club where American punk was born, now a temple for commerce and nostalgic kitsch! A visit at the ancient site will leave most a little depressed. While punk’s heirs around the world continue to defy autocrats, risking their freedom to stand against social injustice and economic polarization, it has been years since British and American punk has had this raw influence. There are still bands out there that sing for change and standing up against the system, but these voices are getting more and more silent in the former scenes. It seems that even the Occupy movement has been co-opted by major label artists trying to make a buck, Miley Cyrus with her Occupy Wall Street flavoured video for “Liberty Walk”, Jay-Z’s Rocawear profited by selling 22$ “Occupy All Streets” T-shirts; which he never donated any profits to the Occupy movement and they called fouled, he did not even blink. What this means is that, if you don’t print your political message on a T-shirt, your message won’t sell. It should be said that the Sex Pistols don’t sell either, not that Universal is not trying when they reissued “God Save the Queen” as a 7-inch to celebrate the anniversary mentioned above and to cash in on the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Fans even tried to push it up the charts, which flopped, but the refrain – “No future, no future, no future for you!” – seems relevant as ever thanks to the global economic crisis and widespread unemployment happening in North America and Europe.

Punk today belongs more to Russia and Iraq, Myanmar and Indonesia, than it does to its birthplaces. Like any movement steeped in dissent and nonconformity, punk’s moral force grows with government suppression. As authoritarian regimes crack down on rebel rockers, their efforts to censor subversive voices often backfire by attracting attention from international media and human rights activists. I am sure that you are maybe wondering how can we inject punk with that moral force that we all felt during the first summer of musical discovery?

Living in Montreal, I am feeling some social unrest in my city and feeling like it is reaching a boiling point; and I have no idea how it is going to end honestly. People protesting the F1 Grand Prix for their blatten disregard for human rights, their glorification of the objectification of women, and this being a party for the rich by the rich. People are getting fed up with the further widening of the gap between the rich and poor, and they are starting to stand up to tell us that it will no longer stand. The whole student protest mouvement is much too complicated to briefly mention here, go check it out for yourself on the internet (just don’t trust solely the major media outlets and look around), see what this all about. Briefly, it’s about people entering the work force already drowning in debt and never being able to get out of it. But since the implementation of Law 78, it has become everyone’s fight for human rights and their rights to protest their government, I mean even the UN is saying that it’s not cool and they are keep an eye on the situation. It was even responded by the Education Minister who told the UN to fuck off and that they have other things to worry about like Syria instead, I am curious to see how this is all going to end. This weekend there has been about 30 arrests by day at the Grand Prix celebrations and scenes of blatten police brutality. So what is the state of punk in Montreal?

The Pussy Riot detainees have inspired protests and fundraisers in Berlin, Krakow, London, Melbourne, Prague, San Francisco and beyond. They’ve made headlines around the world. Expected to face a judge on charges of “hooliganism” in the coming weeks, the bandmates will soon be performing on a larger stage than they ever could have imagined. A global audience will be watching their trial. Some of us wish our own countries still made music that could rattle the windows in, say, the White House or on the streets of Montreal. Real punk — cheeky, risk-taking, rude, sloppy punk — belongs to fighters. Let’s hope they remind the rest of us how it’s done. I have always lived my life by asking “What would Joe Strummer do?”, and I think that he would tell me to take to the streets and inject punk with the fight that made it so great!

 

I am sure that all of you saw the truly courageous act that Tom Gabel did last week when he came out as transgender. I truly admire the courage that has been displayed, to come out in a Rolling Stone magazine interview is something that I am sure most people would not have to guts to do themselves. In the interview Laura Jane Grace (Tom Gabel, for the rest of this post I will be naming her by her new name that best reflects her true identity) says that she has struggled with transgender dysphoria most of her life and that she could no long lie to herself. She has tweeted that she is completely overwhelmed by all the love and support that she has received from family, friends, and the punk rock community; unfortunately the message boards have also been plagued by ignorant xenophobic comments, people have made it a point of calling Laura gay and ridiculing such an important and difficult choice like the one that she has decided to embark on. First of all, I think that it is important that we look at what trangender dysphoria is exactly, because a person is not necessarily gay if they are transgender; and secondly I think that it is important to send out our love and support to Laura as she embarks on what must be liberating and scary all at the same time.

What is transgender dysphoria? It is described as discontent with the biological sex and gender that is assigned to someone at birth. It is used by psychologists and physicians as the symptoms with transexualism, it is considered clinically distinct when it is noticed in children, as opposed as adolescence or adulthood, it is reported to intensify over time. Just like how gender identity develops in children, so do sex-role stereotypes (sex-role stereotypes are the beliefs, characteristics and behaviours of individual cultures that are deemed normal and appropriate for boys and girls to possess; if one wants more explanations about this I highly recommend the book Gender Trouble by Judith Butler, I find that this book should be read by everyone, it is truly enlightening and eye-opening ) which are influenced by family and friends, the mass-media, community and other socializing agents. Most cultures unfortunately still disapprove of cross-gender behaviour, it results in significant problems for affected persons and those in close relationships with them. In many cases, transgender individuals report discomfort which comes from the feeling that their bodies are “wrong” or meant to be different. One contemporary treatment consists primarily of physical modifications to bring the body into harmony with one’s perception of mental gender identity rather than vice versa. There is no official cause for Transgender Dysphoria, but many believe that it is caused by genetic (chromosomal) abnormalities, hormone imbalances during fetal and childhood development, defects in normal human bonding and child rearing, or a combination of these factors. There are many great resources on the internet that are available in case anyone would be interested in learning more about this, it is best that one educates oneself about what one does not understand.

Here are a couple of links to get you started:

GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) http://www.glaad.org/

Introduction to Queer Theory http://www.theory.org.uk/ctr-quee.htm

Alright, so, here goes… I must first of all say that I am truly humbled to witness someone taking part in such a courageous act, I have so much love for Laura and what she is doing these days and feel that education must also take center stage. At the same time that I have felt inspired by her courage, I have also been extremely disappointed by some of the punk rock communitie’s reaction. I know that there are close-minded xenophobic people in all spheres of our lives, but I have always believed that punk rock was that place, that safe place where we could all be ourselves and no one would judge us because we are being true to ourselves. I mean, I don’t know about your town, but in my hometown, the punk scene was made up of the outsiders that never felt like they fit in anywhere and it was these church basement shows which were a place where we could truly be ourselves without fear of being judged by our brothers and sisters; that is what the jocks and popular kids did all week at school. So, I am sad to see that even though there is a great outpouring of love and support for Laura, we are still met with hateful words and judgments on the message boards. To all the nay-sayers this is what I have to say to you:

Tom Gabel wrote music that made me feel alive, helped me through some hard and dark times, made me feel that I was not alone in this fucked up world full of oppression and hate; and you know what Laura, I am going to give that right back to you! For me this scene has always been about community and breaking all stereotypes and prejudices in society; so let’s keep smashing down those walls that divide us! And to the people that say that they will be boycotting future Against Me! shows because of Laura’s decision to live like what she feels to be right, stay the fuck home, we don’t want you around anyways! Would you want to live life denying to yourself how you truly feel? I know that I wouldn’t, and would hope to get the love and support of those around me. We all strive for liberation, from the shackles that keep us down in our everyday lives, once we start to become free (thanks punk rock, I owe you one!) we start to realize that there is so much more than borders, and that we are all just humans that want to be happy and free! Laura Jane Grace, may you live a life of ease and freedom!

It has been a little over a month since the internet phenomenon of KONEY 2012 and Invisible Children has gone viral in the consciousness of the world. This has made me think a lot about Slacktivism and the impact that it really has, this site is interested in engaged people who try to impact the world in a positive while, so why am I so bother with this phenomenon of slacktivism and slactivists? I thought that it was important for me to wait till this latest phenomenon has blown over before I would write about this, to avoid any conclusions that I was reacting directly to the Invisible Children campaign (which I still believe must be questioned and examined) and also to see just what impact has this had. But first of all, what is Slacktivism?

Slacktivism is a term that is a combination of the words slacker and activism. It is usually considered to be a pejorative term that describes “feel-good” measures, in support of an issue or social cause, that have little or no practical effect other than to make the person doing it feel satisfaction. The acts require minimal personal effort from the slactivist. The underlying assumption being promoted is that these low-cost efforts substitute for more substantive actions rather than supplementing them, although this assumption has not been borne out by research. These slactivist activities include signing Internet petitions, joining a community organization without contributing to the organization’s efforts, copying and pasting of social network statuses or messages or altering one’s personal data or avatar on social network services. Research is beginning to explore the connection between the concept and modern activism/advocacy, as groups are increasingly using social media to facilitate civic engagement and collective action. The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/Aids describes the term slacktivist, saying it “posits that people who support a cause by performing simple measures are not truly engaged or devoted to making a change.”

We could debate on the value of slacktivism in today’s world, but what I am more interested in exploring is the actual impact that campaigns like KONY 2012 achieve and also just how informed are people when they start plastering their Facebook profiles and twitter accounts with these types of campaigns. First of all, did anyone know who Invisible Children are and how were they working for the cause that they are publishing? Secondly, what are other organizations and groups in the area saying about this same cause? Are we to trust what one group is saying? This is something that I learned early in my activist days, my first activist actions were the creation of an ARA chapter (Anti-Racist Action), then taking part in Anti-Globalisation protests and then giving out flyers for Animal Rights Groups, and now I have been bringing meditation to people who are incarcerated. My message has always been one of compassion and tolerance, the vehicle might have changed through the years, but the message has remained. One thing that this transformation has taught me, and I think that most activists have the same storyline to a certain degree, we unfortunately learn that we can’t trust even those fighting the good fight. My best example is PETA, an organization that helped me discover the fight for animals, but as time went on I noticed that I could not support their methods and tactics by 100%. Discovery of their euthanasia practices, and especially the internet pornography site that they created ( I mean, how are you able to free animals from oppression and suffering while you oppress women?), these facts made me go through periods of self-reflection and realize that we have to research who we decide to follow and not be fooled by flashy and catchy advertising.

So when KONY 2012 came out, the first thing that I did was research Invisible Children and assure that they were an organization that would be trustworthy. And, with some quick research we see that Invisible Children might not be the organization that we should trust with this campaign. So lets start at the beginning… After some research, I found out that only 25% of their fundraising actually goes towards helping the children of Africa while the other 75% goes towards salaries, travel and other expenses. How could one support and contribute to a charity that barely even donates to the cause it is founded upon? Even the Ugandan people don’t support them according to the Uganda government? The Invisible Children organization used “multiple regional conflicts to make it appear that this is one rapidly increasing issue” according to one source. They used as much emotion as they could in order to provoke a young generation. But they provoked us all for a false purpose, a false issue and a war that has ended.

So many people that I know were outraged about this issue when they first saw this video; I decided to do more research to hopefully better inform those around me because I did not want them to fall into the trap of basing my opinion on emotion like so many had, simply because they are so uneducated on the situation in central Africa. I was faced with many people telling me that no matter what Invisible Children were doing, the important thing was that people were being informed; but, as I looked more into it, I noticed that people were being wrongly informed and letting emtions take over their judgements.  The Internet movement by Invisible Children was meant to play off our emotions and appeal to those who are uneducated about the issue and it did exactly that; however, none of us have ever lived there so why not believe those that have?

There is no denying that Joseph Kony is a terrible person. He has done shocking things and for them, he deserves to be punished. The nature and execution of the punishment is what we seem to be arguing over in every spare column inch and every other Facebook post. Given that we have decided to despise him, what’s the best thing we can really do to help Ugandans and others who have been affected by his regime? Kony stands accused of conscripting over 30,000 children into combat warfare over a twenty-year period. The plight of those affected has been brought to light by ‘Invisible Children’, the charity behind this campaign. They believe that the US military should intervene to capture him and the ‘KONY 2012′ video, which has now gone viral, intends to inform the wider world and work as a call to action so that the US government will take note.

This move has not been without backlash, as the charity has come under attack from many other aid groups and lobbyists claiming that the campaign is “at best a gross oversimplification of a really complicated situation, and, at worst, an actively unhelpful misuse of resources and attention.” Essentially, after only days of support for Invisible Children, the charity is now being accused of misusing funds, misrepresenting facts and essentially making the situation in Uganda worse. This idea has gained support from NGO workers, activists, academics and journalists but, naive as this statement may seem, how bad can they be if they are bringing attention to the crisis?

Whatever about making the situation worse, the basic fact is that while Invisible Children sells itself as a charity set up to campaign against the use of child soldiers, only one-third of money raised has gone to directly assist children and families affected by such regimes. The video seen by millions around the world may raise awareness, but what if this is awareness based on false ‘facts’? Joseph Kony isn’t actually in Uganda and hasn’t been for six years or so. Such a fact seemed to not to matter too much in the thirty minutes Invisible Children talked about stopping this warlord. If this is just the surface, where else has the charity bent the truth?

The President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni is not the leader of a democracy. Ushering in a fourth term in the office last year, he has now held this position for twenty-five years. Museveni lords over a country with minimal social services and well-documented governmental human rights abuses. Invisible Children is channelling money into a corrupt country. Stopping Kony will not change any of the other facts about Uganda and if we are to support the giving of more finance and firearms to those in power, we may actually make the country’s overall problems worse.

Furthermore, the crisis in northern Uganda is not seen by its citizens as one that is the result of the Lord’s Resistance Army, of which Kony is the head. Yes, you read right. The conflict in the region is viewed as one both the Government of Uganda and the LRA have perpetrated and benefited from after nearly twenty-five years of systemic violence and displacement. In order to stop Kony, we may be looking at a larger problem, far beyond the scope of Invisible Children.

What the charity has at its core is obvious – the welfare of children, especially those who have been conscripted, but condoning violence of the sort proposed to bring down Kony and to ‘free’ the Ugandan people seems slightly counter-productive. If you’re trying to save people and safeguard children, the best way to go about it is not to storm their country with ammunition and a mission to kill one man. Those caught in the crosshairs will not be few and far between.

Where there is an argument, there is always an objection and Invisible Children have not taken their criticism lying down. Finance aside, they say that co-ordination with regional governments is vital in helping to secure the arrest they so desperately want, and promise that no money has passed from them to the Ugandan government. They say that their video is simple because their goal, at its core, is not complex, but they also state that they want to see as many people as possible coming out to support the cause and the ‘KONY 2012’ video appeared to be the best way to do it. Whatever we think about it, they’re correct about one thing: we are talking about it.

Nevertheless, Kony 2012 focuses on one warlord and asks that viewers support the continued presence of U.S. military advisers in Uganda to capture him. However, U.S. forces participated in a disastrous operation in 2008 that failed to capture Kony in his base in Congo, but which succeeded in provoking the LRA to launch a ferocious counteroffensive. The rebels abducted an estimated 700 people and killed almost 1000. The Invisible Children video likewise ignores the brutality of the Ugandan military’s campaign against the LRA. In the hunt for Kony, they have been accused of looting the Central African Republic and forcing women into prostitution. The Kony 2012 campaign will not only reinforce this brutality by giving it a “humanitarian” justification, but it serves to strengthen an authoritarian state that last made global headlines for its attempts to pass a law to punish homosexuality with death.

Even from a strictly humanitarian point of view, it’s hard to see why U.S. intervention deserves support. First of all, if the military were to find Kony, we should ask how many of the LRA’s child soldiers—in whose name Invisible Children claims to speak—were killed in the attempt to bring him in. We might also question the commitment of the U.S. government to ending the use of child soldiers in Uganda when it funds the armies of four countries that continue to use them, including Yemen and the Congo. But beyond these questions, it’s important to remember that U.S. military interventions never have been and never will be carried out for humanitarian motivations. U.S. military involvement in Uganda isn’t about concern for ordinary people, but Washington’s desire to strengthen its foothold in Africa. According to a transcript from a March 1 hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Pentagon’s Africa Command is aiming to expand its presence in the region.

For anyone who watched the Invisible Children video, the deceptions in the call for intervention weren’t the only troubling aspects.

Despite Invisible Children’s claim to speak on behalf of Kony’s child soldiers, only one such soldier appears in the video. The only other Ugandans interviewed are politicians—representatives of a U.S.-aligned government that has repressed the Acholi. In fact, the camera spends more time on the video’s white director and his child, and the white activists working with Invisible Children. According to the video, this is “a crucial time in history where what we do or don’t do right now will affect every generation to come.” But the “we” in that passage is clearly Westerners, not Ugandans. This approach—appealing to people in the United States to fight Joseph Kony on behalf of the people of Uganda—has a long and ugly history. It goes by the term “white man’s burden”—the racist argument made famous by British poet Rudyard Kipling that it is the duty of Western countries to be a “civilizing” influence in undeveloped parts of the world.

The Kony 2012 campaign embraces the idea that the people of Uganda must be “saved” from themselves by the benevolent West. This ideology justified almost a century of colonialism in Uganda and the rest of Africa, creating the very conditions that produced monsters like Joseph Kony and Yoweri Museveni. Naturally, people in the United States who see the Kony 2012 video will want to do something to alleviate the suffering that they see portrayed in the film. But if nothing else, a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan should teach us that the U.S. war machine can never be used to stop violence and end suffering. The Kony 2012 video gives false answers to a terrible conflict. The best way to help Uganda is to challenge U.S. intervention and the neoliberal economic policies that devastated the continent.

Are we still talking about bringing down this African warlord? I have to say that I have almost heard nothing about Invisible Children and their KONY 2012 campaign, like so many other online revolutions, people are distracted and have returned to their everyday Facebook use. A second video has been released but the campaign has definitely lost its steam, and now the slactivists of the world are waiting for the next big moment! This makes me sad, where are all these people that were up in arms? The ones that wanted to bring awareness to all corners of the world? Where is the fight? We don’t change the world with awareness, but with actions I suppose; and liking something on Facebook does not change anything….

Also, to just go back to the “white man’s burden”, what are you doing in your country to help the people who are oppressed and being killed by a morally bankrupt government. I feel that there is not the same empathy for the Native American and the suffering and oppression that he is faced with everyday in Canada. There are causes that are being brought to the publics attention by organizations like Amnesty International about the cruel indifference by the Canadian people towards its Native population, a peoples that our ancestors killed and stripped away all resemblance of the world and culture that they once knew. Here are some videos to help some of you be better informed about what is happening in our own backyards.

Two Worlds Colliding is a movie about Darrel Night, a Native American man that was dumped by two police officers in a field on the outskirts of Saskatoon in January 2000, during freezing tempatures (-20 degrees celsius). He was able to find shelter and survive the whole ordeal, but he was shocked to find out that the frozen bodies of other Aboriginal men were discovered in the same area. This documentary explores what was known as Saskatoon’s infamous “freezing deaths,” and the tension between a mistrustful Aboriginal community and a police force that has to come to terms with a shocking secret.

Two Worlds Colliding

This next video is about the hundreds of Native women that are murdered and ignored. This helps to show the stagering indifference that exists in regards to this subject.

Des centaines de femmes autochtones tuees dans l’ombre

Thanks for reading and I hope that we will always take the time to look into the causes that we decide to support, and most importantly… Are you acting locally also to help make your community a better place for those that will follow?

We all have a Bucket List, it can sometimes seems like a never-ending list as we grow older and gain more knowledge of the world around us, but there are always certain items that seem to carry more importance. I was lucky enough to be able to check off an important item on my ever-growing list. I got to see the last resting spot of the person that has probably had the greatest impact on my personhood, and the village that he decided to exile himself from the city. I know that some of you that know me are probably curious about this, so I have decided to bring you on a Camus inspired tour of Lourmarin, one of the most beautiful villages that I have ever set foot in the middle of Provence, where France meets scenery reminiscent of Algeria Camus use to say while resting on his terrace.

Albert Camus was searching for a house, back in september 1958 he is about to buy a house with his Nobel Prize winnings  the old house of Doctor Olivier Monod, this is where his wife Francine and his two children will begin a new chapter in their lives. It is from this terrace that Camus is able to gaze upon the Luberon mountains which remind him of the plains and mountains of Algeria. His house is now located on Albert Camus street, the house as we can see is very unassuming and helped him live a life that is more private, getting away from the St-Germain des Pres world in Paris. “30 septembre [1958]. Un mois passé a revoir le Vaucluse. Acquis celle de Lourmarin.” (Albert Camus, Carnets III ed. Gallimard, 1989, p.258)

Camus discovered Provence through the eyes of his mentor and friend, Jean Grenier, he had known Lourmarin during the 1920’s, he was also a friend of Bosco, which made that he had some serious roots in Lourmarin. Camus was seduced by the way that Grenier described this village in Cum Apparuerit (“Je ne puis lire aujourd’hui ces vers anciens, sur la gorge du Luberon, que commande le château de Lourmarin sans penser aux poemes de Bosco” [Jean Grenier, Cum Apparuerit, Les Terrasses de Lourmarin, 1930, pp. 25-30), so when he arrived in 1958 he wrote to him to say “Je mets mes pas dans les votres.”

Soccer played a crucial role in the life of Albert Camus, since the age of fourteen he was extremely involved. Starting at the Association sportive de Montpensier, and then became the goaltender for the junior team Racing Universitaire d’Alger. When he lived in Lourmarin he assisted at almost every game of the Lourmarin team, which was composed of the youth of the village. It was also common for him to take a coffee with them after the games at the Ollier hotel terrace to discuss strategy and the game that had occurred. At Albert Camus’s funeral in 1960, it is the local soccer team that carried his casket out of the church to the graveyard, a reflection of his love of the game and the impact that it had on the community. “J’appris tout de suite qu’une balle ne vous arrivait jamais du coté ou l’on croyait. Ca m’a servi dans l’existence…” (Roger Grenier, Albert Camus Soleil et Ombre, Paris, ed. Gallimard, 1987, p.14)

Suzanne Ginoux had worked for the Monod family, the old owners of the new Camus residence. A women of forty years, Suzanne and her husband Leonce, live on the same street near the village’s church. Near Francine Camus, her new boss, madame Ginoux was considered to be by Francine as her true confidant. “Ce n’est pas une femme de ménage que j’ai, c’est une soeur.” (Olivier Todd, Albert Camus une vie, ed Gallimard, 1996, pp 737-739)

The Ollier hotel is a landmark in the village that was important for me to see, and I had a hard time finding it seeing as how it no longer exists as a hotel. This hotel had a special meaning to Camus since his first meal with long time friend Jules Roy in 1946, a tradition that brought great pleasure throughout his life. I arrived in the village and looked around, but hunger set in and decided to stop at this really nice and quaint restaurant to rest and refuel, to my surprise as I exited refreshed, the restaurant that I had chosen (L’Insolite) was actually located in the old Ollier hotel. I was able to see what attracted Camus to wanting to eat there with friends in the sun. This hotel which was bought in 1892 by Ludovic Ollier became a staple for this village, and even Bosco spent a great deal of time there. “Il fréquantait la table de l’hôtel Ollier […] mais pour garder l’incognito, il utilisait un pseudonyme.” (Robert Ytier, Henri Bosco une vie, ed Aubanel, 1996)

I know that this will probably sound morbid, but the highlight was seeing his grave. This was the closest that I would be able to him psychically, it was an experience that I will have a hard time explaining. I am sure that we have all had these moments when we realize what it is all about, really what it’s about… I had gotten up at 4am, taken two trains, one bus, about 6h of travelling time, and it all melted away the moment that I opened the cemetery gates and walked towards the grave. I also got to share this moment with my father, who has been sick a couple of times with cancer in the last couple of years and the treatments have had an impact on his health. He is the person who introduced me to Camus, about twenty years ago I had to read a novel with an adult and discuss the content and then write a project on the major themes of the text that I had chosen. I still remember the time that I went to Tim Horton’s (I know I know, but when you live in New Brunswick and its 1994, there are not many choices) to discuss the book with him, it was the first time that I felt like an adult and that he was listening to me and valuing my opinion. It was the first time that the father/son power dynamic was left at the door and we had an honest discussion. It is a moment that I still treasure to this day, it is a formative event and I will always fall back on it during my life. Alright, I got a little side-tracked, back to the graveyard!

I will always remember the moment that I saw it and took a moment to view his final resting spot, next to his wife, surrounded by rosemary bushes. A humble, un-descriptive plot, we wouldn’t have thought it to be any other way. His final resting spot reflects the man behind the ideas that he left behind. All I could think was just how humble and grateful I was to be next to one of the great minds, and most importantly, the great hearts of the human race. I finally understand what he meant when he wrote in Return to Tipasa: “Au milieu de l’hiver, j’ai découvert en moi un invincible été.”