Monday, March 2, 2015

Marinaleda: How one small town rejected Capitalism and embraced Socialism

“Utopia: Know that the land of Los Humosos, found in the Genil lowlands, does not belong to anyone but to all the community and to the people who worked for years for a utopian society and for a better world—more just, egalitarian, peaceful, ethical, ecological, and humane. And we now have that. Know that when you consume our products you join in a great collective dream.” (Hill, 2014).

In the 21st century, it is very rare to find a society surrounded by the forces of global capitalism but refusing to adhere to the demands of the free market. And yet Marinaleda, a town in southern Spain, is doing just that, and has been for many years, ever since its mayor, Juan Manuel Sanchez Gordillo was first elected in 1979 at the age of 30. (Edgar, 2013). Marinaleda has a well-developed infrastructure, very low living costs, virtually full employment amongst its citizens, and for those who are temporarily out of work, they have a strong safety net to fall back on.  

The town of Marinaleda, steeped in socialist traditions, has managed to form its own socialist economic system, albeit being slightly dependent on the central and regional governments for funding. Despite this, it remains virtually self-sufficient with high levels of employment and low levels of poverty. There is a strong importance of interdependence and community and not relying on ‘free market’ principles. Marinaleda owes its current system partly to its history of anarchism and also extreme levels of poverty and oppression during the Franco dictatorship which helped created a radical opposition. The process of enculturation ensures the system has continued from one generation to the next, although it is only a few decades old.

A society’s economic system is the cultural methods of allocating natural resources, the means of exploiting the resources through technology, the organization of work, and the production, distribution and consumption, and exchange of goods and services. Marinaleda’s economic situation is especially unique in Spain, considering the ongoing economic crisis, and the news about increased evictions and suicides regularly discussed in the Spanish media.  (Bueker, 2013). With a population of nearly 3,000 (Edgar, 2013) It has been described as a thriving community with no poverty. In 2012, the town had only 5% unemployment, compared to the rest of Spain on average- 25%, and Andalusia, 34% (Hancox, 2012). There is full employment because if a resident loses their job, the cooperative hires them. (Burnett, 2009). In Marinaleda, there is no competition of who works the most, earns the most, and who makes the most profit by selling products. Everyone in the cooperative earns the same salary- $47 a day for six and a half hours’ work. (Hancox, 2013). Marinaleda tries to keep this the equivalent of public service wages. An advisor to the mayor described their philosophy, ‘If everyone works less, everyone can work.’ (Roth, 2013).

Marinaleda has created a municipal housing program with no mortgages. Once someone has lived in Marinaleda for two years, they get materials to build their own home. (Editorial, 2013). These are three bedroom houses, with a garden of 100 square meters built on municipal land with materials from the regional government, and only $15 a month for rent. The prospective owners donate about 450 days of their work to the construction. To prevent people from profiting, residents are forbidden from selling their houses, but they can give it to their children or to someone they choose.  (Hancox, 2012). The town does depend heavily on money from the regional and central governments, despite considering the town to be autonomous (Burnett, 2009). The material for each home costs the regional government about $25,000 with a combination of state housing subsidy for building materials, free labor for construction and land given by the town. Community members come together with architectural plans provided by council to build a block of houses, with no sense in advance of which home will belong to which family.

There are extensive sports facilities and a beautifully maintained botanical garden. Marinaleda’s residents have access to a variety of social services, including free home care for the elderly, nursery schools cost $17 a month, (Burnett, 2009) and access to a public swimming pool is only $13 for the whole summer, all financed through the cooperatively run farms and factories.  (Edgar, 2013). The Mayor stresses the importance of his belief of people over profit, “The whole idea of the place being somewhere good to live is that anyone can afford to enjoy themselves. You can’t have a utopia without some loss-making facilities.” (Bush and Wilton, 2014).

Different subsistence modes tend to foster different attitudes about land rights and access to natural resources. Farming peoples need to make claims to specific parcels of land that they cultivate. Ownership may be vested in a community as a whole or in individuals. Ownership of land tends to be most formalized among farming peoples, who expend a great deal of labour readying their fields for planting and need specific acreage to produce sufficient food. Societies organize subsistence strategies to utilize their land and resources efficiently. Marinaleda is horticultural because it has a subsistence strategy that focuses on small scale farming using a relatively simple technology. “In horticultural societies, families, kin groups, own or allocate land…horticultural surpluses are stored against famines and disasters, and are redistributed to those in need.’ (Bonvillain, 2013: 148-149).  Farming provides people with a stable source of food. Rather than relying on the fluctuating bounty of nature, people grow their own groups. Marinaleda rejects concepts of industrial agriculture, “increased use of complex technology, leading to increased replacement of human labor with machinery and increased use of fossil fuels as sources of energy in production…tendency towards production among producers.” (Bonvillain, 2013: 174-178).

The mayor intentionally promotes low productivity farm jobs, needing industrial processing to create more work, and grows labor-intensive crops like artichokes, hot peppers, broccoli, broad beans and wheat (Burnett, 2009). The number of workers depends on the season and there is a co-operatively owned factory that produces olive oil.  The town cooperative does not distribute profits- any surplus is re-invested to create more job.  (Hancox, 2013).

Every few weeks, the town holds a ‘Red Sunday’, where volunteers clean the streets or do odd jobs. Also on ‘Green Sundays’ everyone works in the fields, harvesting, packing etc. (Edgar, 2013).
There is no police, which saves $350,000 a year. (Hancox, 2012). Marinaleda still operates with some degree of central authority, but the local council has devolved power into the hands of those it serves. At the general assembly, an average of around 200-400 people discuss problems and find solutions. Minor crimes are addressed via this assembly. Decision making is done collectively and on a broad range of issues, from public works to management of the village cooperative. Gordillo has been regularly re-elected competitively. (Edgar, 2013)

It appears that Marinaleda has a good record of gender equality when it comes to political representation, “Women are over-represented on village council and in general assemblies.” And Gordillo notes “Everything we have won here, has been thanks to the women.” (Hancox, 2013, page 98(. Despite this, there are still traditional patriarchal gender roles used in the village, “Some aspects of Spain’s old fashioned gender roles persist (especially when it comes to housework)..” (Hancox,  2013, page 98). An expert in anthropology at the center of Andalusian Studies in Seville, said Mr Sanchez had brought social equity to an uneducated, economically oppressed community. But the vision is ‘anachronistic’, he says, as the future for Andalusia lays not in the fields, but in industry and services. (Burnett, 2009).

To understand how this town came to be so economically radical and reject free market capitalism, it is worth noting its history of activism and environmental conditions. Marinaleda was once an impoverished village that has been influenced by a rich anarchist history of the region. This would have made it easier for the town to break free from the rest of Spain as the naturalized concepts- ideas and behaviours that seem so natural to others would not have been as strong in this region.  The importance of how historical socialist traditions influence a modern economic system in an area is also reflected in a small radical town in British Columbia, “the Utopian ideals and socialist beliefs of the original Finnish settlers have continued to inspire the community and emerge as even more important for the Sointulans' outlook toward economy and the natural environment.” (Saikku 2007: 7).

It is a town whose social fabric has been woven from very different economic threads to the rest of Spain since the fall of the Franco dictatorship in the 1970’s. In 1979, after the death of Franco, being a farming community with no land, (Blitzer, 2012) in a position of abject poverty and suffering from more than 60% unemployment, and after Marinaleda’s people frequently forced to go without food for days at a time, came hunger strikes and occupying of underutilized land. As Gordillo explains, “It was misery. The surroundings were all huge expanses of private land. Andalusia is like Latin America: 2% of property owners own 50% of the land." (Hancox, 2012). A week’s long occupation of a nearby reservoir began to convince the regional government to allocate them enough water to irrigate a tract of land. Gordillo founded a radical labour union and supported militant actions of landless labourer’s right after the fall of the Franco dictatorship. Aiming to build a veritable socialist utopia placed them in opposition to liberal capitalism. And yet over three decades they have constantly won. Marinaleda's first major action was a 1980 ‘hunger strike against hunger’, by 700 people for nine days, which won the equivalent of €25m from the government to keep the landless and largely unemployed peasantry going till the December olive harvest. (Edgar, 2013).  In 1988, the people from Marinaleda waged a determined struggle against the brutal regime of larger-scale land owners who dominate Andalusia. The first victory was in 1991- 1,200 hectares of land they gained owned previously by the absentee Duke of Infantado. (Edgar, 2013).  in 1985, Sánchez Gordillo told the newspaper El País: "We have learned that it is not enough to define utopia, nor is it enough to fight against the reactionary forces. One must build it here and now, brick by brick, patiently but steadily, until we can make the old dreams a reality: that there will be bread for all, freedom among citizens, and culture; and to be able to read with respect the word 'peace '. We sincerely believe that there is no future that is not built in the present." (Hancox, 2013).

It appears that timing had a keen part to play in the central government being more open to granting resources to Marinaleda, “Spain’s public spending had gone from an anemic 20 percent of GDP in 1960 to nearly twice that by 1980. This means that Marinaleda made its demands for resources precisely when the government, for the first time, had something to offer in response.” (Hill, 2014). I believe that Gordillo’s leadership in bringing and keeping the people of Marinaleda together in this collective cause is key to their success as one of the most significant characteristics of culture is that it is integrated. There is a tendency for peoples’ beliefs and practices to form a relatively coherent and consistent system, (Pryor, 2007) which is how the town has managed to keep its economic system. Through the process of enculturation, members have learnt to accept their roles.

Blitzer, Jonathan.
2012. The Don Quixote of the Spanish Crisis. Electronic document,, accessed on February 26th 2015.
Bonvillain, Nancy.
2013. Cultural Anthropology 3rd Edition, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey Pearson
Bueker, C.A.
2013 SUICIDES SPAM EVICTION RESISTANCE, Electronic document,, accessed February 24th 2015
Burnett, Victoria.
2009. A Job and No Mortgage for All in a Spanish Town, Electronic document,, accessed February 26th 2015.
Bush and Wilton.
2014. The Spanish town where people come before profit, Electronic document,, accessed February 25th 2015.
Edgar, David.
2013. The Village Against the World By Dan Hancox- review Electronic document,, accessed February 26th 2015
2013. Co-op Bank, Mutual Friends, Electronic document, accessed February 26th 2015.
Hancox, Dan.
2012. The Spanish Robin Hood. Electronic document,, accessed February 26th 2015
Hancox, Dan.
 2013. The Village Against the World. Brooklyn, New York. Verso.
Hill, Sarah.
2014. Road to Utopia. Electronic document,, accessed on February 26th 2015.
Minder, Raphael.
2012. Spain’s Crisis Reignites an Old Conflict, Electronic document, accessed on February 26th 2015.
Roth, Lisa.
2013. The Marinaleda Model. Electronic document,, accessed on February 26th 2015.
Saikku, Mikko.
2007.                                                                                                                                                    UTOPIANS AND UTILITARIANS: Environment and Economy in the Finnish Canadian Settlement of Sointula, 154: 3-38

Thursday, February 19, 2015

It’s time for Imperialist Fiction to stop Mastering this Narrative: Canada’s relationship with its Indigenous Peoples in 2015

To many Canadians, the relationship between the country they call home and the indigenous peoples goes something like this: “White Europeans came, fought with the ‘natives’, and conquered them. But that happened hundreds of years ago and now we are all equal, but it’s just a lot of the natives are drunk, lazy and poor, so they continue to blame us for something that happened a long time ago!” This, like many master narratives is erroneous and superficial. Although most Canadians would like to believe that oppression of indigenous peoples in Canada is no longer an issue, the truth is that the imperialistic attitude and persecution lives on, albeit in a more covert manner.  The ‘master narrative’ term was developed by Jean-Francois Lyotard to describe a theory that tries to give a complete, exhaustive account to various historical events, experiences, and social and cultural phenomena based upon the appeal to an all inclusive truth or values. In this context, narrative is a story that operates to legitimize power, authority and social customs. According to Fulford (page 30), a master narrative is “a work of history that scoops up thousands of facts, fits them into a meaningful pattern and then draws lessons about human conduct.” This particular master narrative fits Fulford’s description quite well. It is a ‘story known by a social group; has a lifespan; is inherently ideological; and it is comprised of smaller narratives’.
The average Canadian considers the injustices faced by indigenous people to be located in the distant past, as ironically has every generation. This ignores the fact that half of First Nations children in Canada grew up in poverty in 2014, that indigenous people were not able to vote until 1970, the continued imperialist land grab in the name of fossil fuel projects and profits, that residential schools were happening right up until the 1960s and the last one closed in 1995, the federal government refusing to call an enquiry into the missing and murdered indigenous women, and that the Indian Act continues to this day, amongst others. This master narrative is a legacy of early Canadian government’s attempts to create a cohesive national identity, one which omits first nations’ cultures and values, and is perpetuated by certain sections of the media and politicians whose interest lies with keeping with this narrative.
The negative portrayal of one group in society is a classic example of the right wing strategy of ‘divide and rule’, observed most horrifically during the years leading up the Holocaust, when the dehumanization of the Jewish people was not just restricted to the German press- the print version of what is currently the world’s most popular ‘news’ website, the British Daily Mail supported the Nazis, and contributed towards the vicious propaganda towards the Jewish people. The tradition lives on today as the Mail and other conservative tabloids combine Muslims, asylum seekers, immigrants, (legal and illegal) and refugees as one homogenous mass of undesirables. The absurdity of this has gotten so out of hand that each British mainstream party, even the apparently left wing Labour Party, is locked in a battle of ‘who is tougher on immigrants’ benefits’. As it gets closer to the election, expect this to get to higher levels. Don’t be surprised to see, on election day, a photo shoot of leader of the Conservatives, David Cameron seen getting a refugee in a headlock whilst giving a speech on immigration reform followed by Labour Party leader Ed Miliband giving the finger to anyone  ‘who looks a bit brown’ coming out of Arrivals at Heathrow Airport.
Of course these sensationalist tabloids have an agenda to not only distract the masses from more important issues like climate change and inequality, but also to increase the circulation of their newspapers. Newspapers, like the Sun, owned by a deeply unpleasant man whose appearance resembles a baked potato left out for a year- the facially shriveled, Rupert Murdoch. He is an Australian Tycoon who also owns Fox, which is so far to the right that the political spectrum has had to have another 30m added to the end of it. Murdoch’s influence is so large that he can impose whatever ideological script he wants and his publications’ consumers will go with it. Fox News could claim there is a 20ft gay Mexican atheist trampling all over New York and they would believe it. So our faithful attachment to a master narrative dictates how we frame stories and the questions we ask, which strengthens our belief in the master narrative. To understand how and why this is so, it is imperative to know that master narratives are created and reinforced by political and media power structures, and are therefore promoting the values of callous privileged capitalists.  
Of course any master narrative has a lifespan and you might suggest that if this particular one I’m focusing on was to evolve to become much more progressive and in favor of first nation’s rights and values, then I would welcome it. Yes, but I think there’s more chance of Stephen Harper performing the ‘Flash dance’ routine in the House of Commons than that happening. Evolve it might but not quickly enough.
I, for one, believe that there can be no universal truth. The diversity of human experience is a good thing, where no master narrative perpetuated by an elite and privileged group of people can be elevated so far as to appear to be ‘the truth’. Of course it is impossible to completely obliterate this particular narrative anytime soon, but I believe there must be room made available for more progressive versions. As Martin notes, (Freedman, page 647). You might also suggest that two of the grand narratives of the enlightenment: Democracy and Marxism, were grounded in progressive values that seeked to work for everybody and not just a privileged few. Indeed but where are the progressive grand narratives now? “What about the Master Narrative of the Holocaust?” I hear you ask. “Feeling that this atrocity must never happen again, that we must stand up against injustice when we see it, and subjugation of minorities!” I would reply “Where is that compassion for an oppressed group of people and victims of genocide now, Canada?”
Society grows so accepting of a master narrative that they are unable to see any other possibilities for stories. Only recently have indigenous voices been allowed to be heard by the rest of society, and so the non-aboriginal population is at least beginning to be more open minded on this issue. New, more progressive counter narratives are emerging and activist groups such as Idle No More are helping to raise awareness. First Nations people are reclaiming their culture and stories. For instance in Victoria, BC- Mount Douglas, a sacred mountain to the Coast Salish people, has been symbolically restored to its original name, Pklos.

It’s time for Canada to realize that First Nations people if treating equally as the rest of the country, and given the chance, will succeed, are creative, amazing, caring, passionate, intelligent humans, stewards of the Earth and allies in the fight against the oil companies and conservative ministers that put profits before people and the planet. But don’t stop reading here dear reader. I am a privileged white male who cannot speak on behalf of First Nations people. Listen to them as this was merely an introduction, and I am merely an ally of this cause. Check out Idle No More and its newsletters, attend a teach in, and become an ally yourself. I stand in solidarity with the struggles of the indigenous people of Canada and so should you. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

What to do about Syria? What is the most truly ethical stance?

Is it possible to know what the truly ethical foreign policy stance towards the current conflict in Syria is? Perhaps not in practice but I believe states should at least attempt to abide by idealist values, however unrealistic and unachievable this may be in reality. The obstacles to a truly ethical foreign policy are that the political world is highly unpredictable as people are not predictable. Whether or not western states should intervene, to what extent and by what means is hotly contested in all western countries and unlike economic policy, the different positions on Syria by western actors cannot easily be placed on the left/right wing spectrum.

 I will now elaborate on what I mean by this. As war and the political world is unpredictable, states and political leaders like Barack Obama will have looked at previous conflicts in order to predict the most likely outcome of each action he could take as commander in chief of the world's largest military and leader of the global hegemon. One example is the Lebanon civil war which ran from 1975-1990. With its circumstances and actors similar to Syria, another Middle Eastern country, Obama could be confident that this war may last for around the same amount of time, despite western intervention. Each side, Assad and the Syrian Rebels, simply had too much to lose in order to stop fighting, making a ceasefire highly unlikely.

Obama would also have been aware of the Iraq War, which started in 2003 and resulted in half a million innocent Iraqis dying as a result of the US intervention, and a country that has turned into a failed state despite the US ploughing billions of dollars into it in order to transform it into a democracy. Isis, an Islamic terrorist group have taken over parts of Iraq and the US has again had to intervene with air strikes against the terrorists, despite only withdrawing troops a few years ago and President Bush in 2003 stating, “Mission accomplished.”

Like how easy it was to oust Saddam Hussain, it would be relatively easy given the US’s power and military strength to defeat Assad. But the failure of the US to install a stable liberal democracy would play on Obama’s mind with regards to Syria. Quite simply, if you did not grow up in the region, and do not specialize in this area, no amount of research, debate and information can make you understand the situation in its entirety.

The US originally supported the Syrian opposition unofficially, supplying arms and resources, but has since stopped this after some members of the Syrian rebels were exposed as being Islamic extremists, who later went on to form Isis. The US has made the same mistake before, backing the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union. Members of the Mujahedeen, like Osama Bin Laden, later went on to form Al Qaeda, and launch the single largest terrorist attack on American soil. Therefore it is not always true that ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’, however tempting this may be.

Some would argue that by gaining UN security council approval to intervene, this gives western states more of an ethical stance on the conflict. However I see problems with this. Firstly the UNSC is made up of 5 permanent members, two of which, democracies France and the UK, only have around 60 million people living in their countries. On the other hand, the world’s largest democracy, India with over a billion people living there, does not have a permanent position on the UNSC. Furthermore, there is no country from the Middle East, or Africa on the UNSC, and yet many of the decisions made on the council concern conflicts occurring in these regions.

The countries most likely to know what is the right decision to take on Syria are those that are in the Arab League. And those people who are acting with purely altruistic and humanitarian reasons, and not in the name of profit eg arms manufacturers, can most be trusted.

Quite simply, the only thing ethical stance that most people agree is the right action to take is to support Syrian refugees with housing, clothing, food and other supplies, letting them into western countries and supporting them to start a new life away from the conflict. There are also 11 million people in need of humanitarian aid in Syria, although it is harder to help those. Regarding military intervention it’s just not clear what the most ethical stance is. Only history can tell us that. And even that will be up for debate in the future.

Western powers have intervened in conflicts in the middle east for over a hundred years ago, and not one of these has been a success. They should support whatever the Arab League desires, and also keep on pressing the countries that are supplying arms and other resources to both sides of the conflict in order to do their best to bring an end to this horrific war.

Below are several petitions from people and groups whose motives are altruistic and humanitarian and are meant to end the war in Syria:-

Click here to pressure the US & Iran to meet to find a diplomatic path to bring forward a ceasefire in Syria

Click here to pressure the European Union to impose an arms embargo and asset freezes, sanctions and travel bans on the Syrian regime

Click here for an Oxfam petition to pressure world leaders to form peace talks on Syria

Monday, October 27, 2014

Transforming a criminal justice system into a competitive market? What could possibly go wrong!!

Because businesses are often seen as being more economically efficient than the government, governments often introduce the private sector into traditionally state run services. The capacity to grow shareholder profits whilst saving taxpayer money is presented as attractive especially in a time of fiscal tightening. Competition does indeed motivate people and organizations to perform well, because they lose out on revenue if they don’t.

However this ideological shift to convert public funds into private profits can be damaging and often wasteful itself. This can especially be seen in the case of prison privatization in various western countries, such as the US, UK & Canada. One example is that in the UK, two of the companies involved in prisons are being investigated for overcharging the government by tens of millions of pounds.

Also prison privatization often delivers poor results and dangerous services. Driven by profits and not social justice, corporations will often pay low wages and hire inexperienced staff. They will have a higher turnover of staff, meaning a lack of consistency and poor continuity of care for prisoners.
A 2003 report in the UK found that despite some evidence of good performance by privatized prisons, they performed less well in safety and security with high levels of assaults. Prisoners also expressed concerns about personal safety due to the experience of staff.

In 2012, it was reported that Canada’s only privatized prison, in Ontario had poorer security, health care and recidivism rates than public prisons of the same size.

The prisons may well be run more efficiently under privatization but after they can’t get more efficient, the corporation will still be seeking higher profits, such is their obligation to their shareholders. Because the best interests of the business to keep prisoners in the system for as long as possible- the employee’s jobs depend on keeping them there, and the subsequent lobbying for longer prison sentences, will eventually cost more money. Corrections Corporation of America, the nation’s largest owner of private prisons, made a pitch to 48 governors state run prisons, which included an ‘occupancy agreement’- a clause demanding the state keep those newly privatized prisons at least 90% full at all times. Occupancy agreements are common practice within the private prisons sector.

They will also lobby against progressive policies like decriminalizing marijuana, would cut back into the corporations’ profits, as would measures aimed at reducing the system’s racism, given incarceration rates for black people is 7 times that of white people.

Furthermore, powers like having a right to detain, to remove an individual’s liberty and to restrain, should only be exercised by public servants- employed by the state, whose line of reporting runs straight to the minister in charge of prisons.

In conclusion, a process of transforming a criminal justice system into a competitive market place in which the attainment is financial return rather than social justice may maximize profits for the corporations involved and may even save money in the short term, but it is at odds with offender rehabilitation and public safety, often costing more money in the long term and resulting in aggressive lobbying against progressive policies by corporations.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Pragmatic Idealism is my excuse, and I'm sticking with it.

As I sit on my chair typing away, to the left is my book shelf, full of around 50 books that I will need to pack away when I move in the next few months. Few I have read fully, most I have read at least the first chapter. Apart from two, they have one thing in common- they are all non fiction, and apart from five, they are all, at least in part, political. Mostly coming from a progressive (ie left wing, egalitarian, sustainable, humanist) perspective, they range in where they would sit on the left wing spectrum. Some would argue that American politics is so skewed to the right and ridiculous that a former president's autobiography can't possible be considered 'left wing' outside of America. Over on the far left, two of Noam Chomsky's books are probably the most radical. And yet I would enjoy reading them all, and find myself agreeing, and disagreeing in all of them. This is me, my political views are fluid and never fixed, but I always consider myself on the left.

Some people reject the 'left v right' label, ok well I want a society that is more equal regardless of gender, sexuality, race, creed etc and more environmental, valuing the clean air and water over the amount of shoes, or cars, owned, to give a few examples. I believe in the democratic process, just because people died in order to that we could have the vote, but because I consider democracy to be about more than just turning up to vote every few years. In liberal democratic nations, we have freedom of speech, however much we battle the right wing press for validity and truth. We have the ability to engage with our non-political friends, colleagues and family and attempt to steer them towards our type of worldview. We are armed with progressive values, facts and evidence, and the right is armed with money, power, influence and narratives that often combine asylum seekers, muslims, immigrants and refugees into one homogenous mass of undesirables. Yet we continue to speak out, for we must.

Where exactly am I on the political spectrum, I often ask myself. Not because I feel the need to label myself, but because I find politics fascinating, and I am fascinated by how I arrived with these progressive ideals, having not been brought up in a particularly political family. When people do inquire as to, "Are you a socialist? Are you a social democrat? Environmentalist? Feminist?" I think, "Yes, all of those things, for the most part" and reply, "I'm a pragmatic idealist." This gives me room for manoeuvre, for I am not one to hold onto one ideology and insist it is the only one that works. Probably because that would leave me intensely frustrated, I like it when things seem to be going my way. If they weren't, I would probably give up.

Having been criticized for volunteering for an environmental festival where we have corporations as vendors in return for a three figure sum so that the event can be free to everyone, I rely on my pragmatic idealist label. This is my first year volunteering for this group, and I chose to do it because last year I saw what a great opportunity it was to educate and empower the community and individuals about the need for environmental protection, and what they can do to reduce their own carbon footprint. There are of course many protests and rallies that happen in Victoria all the time, yet few attract 5000 people, mostly people who don't consider themselves activists and otherwise wouldn't learn about the need to protect the Great Bear Rainforest.

Of course we are all pragmatic idealists to an extent- few anti-capitalists refuse to own a laptop, or even join Facebook because of them being made by corporations. We live in a corporate world, and we have to use their means to fight it. We cannot totally shut ourselves out from the economic system we live in, because it is all inter-connected. I believe we will slowly adjust to a more just, sustainable system but change rarely happens instantly, maybe we don't see it happening. We don't want another drought in the horn of Africa made worse by man made climate change, but we know when one comes, we are going to use it to attempt to waken up society to the injustice of continuing to burn fossil fuels. We want people to see the world the way we do, but we need to realize they won't always, and therefore we need to be pragmatic.

I know I don't ever want to work for a corporation again, I know I want to make a real difference in the world, I know I want a job that I enjoy, and I know I don't know what that job is.

Having to go to college for two years in order to stay in Canada and then attain a three year work permit after graduation, I could take a financial diploma, I could do well. I could even use that diploma to gain a good job in a credit union and help to make a difference in my community. I know that me taking a 'Criminal and social justice' diploma is less valuable to my future career because I know there aren't many jobs in that field.

Having taken the 'Criminal and social justice' diploma, I could try hard for a job as a social justice activist and come up empty handed. With my then being in my early 30's and probably longing for a family and feeling the need for a career, I could go and sell my soul to a corporation for a tidy wage.

Or I could manage to find a good job as some kind of community organizer, move to the city and only use public transit, and find a nice house with a garden where I grow all my own food.

My pragmatic idealism means I will probably end up somewhere inbetween these. It means my future is uncertain but it means I always have the 'Well I'm a pragmatic idealist' excuse.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

I have a voice. And I intend to use it.

Since emigrating to Canada, I've become interested in indigenous peoples' (also called first nations) rights. At the end of a really interesting mini conference about First Nations' issues, they were letting members of the audience go up to the microphone to make comments. I felt I had something to say. But would it come out the way I planned it in my head? I stood up and walked over to the microphone, more worried about muddling my words than than the fact I may stutter. "I have a voice," I thought to myself, "And I intend to use it." And then I spoke:

"Thank you everyone for a really enlightening experience. I have learnt a lot these past two days and am armed with facts and knowledge about first nations' issues. I have only been in Canada for a year now but already feel more informed than some people I speak to, many who repeat tired misconceptions about 'The Indians'. Well we will all know at least one person who is uninformed about these issues and I honestly believe that if every person here were to speak to just one person that we know, counter their misunderstandings then collectively we can make a big difference, and further progress can be made."

Singing a New Song: Creating a Renewed Relationship with First Nations, Spring 2013

With Robert Morales, Indigenous Human Rights & Aboriginal Rights Lawyer & Chief Negotiator at Hul'qumi'num Treaty Group

Photo credits- Kevin Doyle

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

First they came for the sick,poor and disabled. Now they're coming for you

First the Tories came for the public sector, and you didn't speak out, because you aren't in the public sector:

Then they came for the students, and you didn't speak out, because you aren't a student: 

Then they came for the poor, and you didn't speak out because you aren't poor:

Then they came for the single parents, and you didn't speak out because you aren't a single parent:

Then they came for the unemployed, and you didn't speak out, because you aren't unemployed: 

Then they came for the long-term sick, and you didn't speak out, because you aren't long-term sick:

Then they came for the immigrants, and you didn't speak out, because you aren't an immigrant: 

Then they came for the school pupils, and you didn't speak out, because you are no longer a pupil:

If you don't do something about it, there'll be no one left to speak for you.

So sign this petition before it's too late!!