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Why Is The Rum Gone?

7 Dec

There is a new political party in town, the so-called “Pirate Party”, who have caused some furore within established political structures and won several seats in Berlin’s Senate earlier this year. Also, they fucking annoy me.

What has started out (at least in popular perception) as a bit of a white nerd gathering (no offense, Pete ;)) over the – rightly heavily criticized – internet censorship and privacy-abolishment attempts by former Secretary Ursula von der Leyen and others, has, within 2 years, seemingly turned into a movement for more transparent and democratic political structures and processes and an alleged alternative to the tiresome political establishment in this country (and others).

Obviously, the Pirate Party is a new party on the political spectrum, and posing the same standards concerning professionalism (meant as: know what you’re doing and how to communicate it properly), elaborate party programme and routine in political processes is maybe too much to ask at this point. Nonetheless, the Pirate Party is aiming to play the “big boys’ game” (quite literally, sadly) and has entered major elections, so I do hold them to a certain standard if they think they’re ready for state and federal elections.

As examined in the post about Occupy Wall Street, the Pirates too embrace a political concept of openness that leads to specific chances and specific problems and, in my view, the Pirate Party is doing a really crappy job in dealing with the latter, and seems to have an almost amusingly naive (to use a friendly word) outlook on certain issues, particularly and not surprisingly, gender and race.

One of the long-held grievances by leftist activists against the Pirate Party has been its downright ignorance when dealing with gender issues and acknowledging that there might be certain structural problems if their percentage of women members is as low as it is and women seem to have a very hard time achieving positions of voice and influence in their seemingly progressive and gender equal party.

Pirates (men and women alike) tend to proclaim a pink-bubble-gender-and identity-equality, despite the actual status of women in their party and the influx of Men’s Right Activists (even if they do not call themselves that explicitly; also another article on men’s rights in the Pirate Party here) which clearly send quite different signals. It is therefore mildly amusing and annoying at the same time – especially, since some Pirates think they’re inventing something brand new here in terms of gender equality and identity politics, and just have to deal with inevitable childhood illnesses, no matter how many feminist activists have debated and lived through shit like this time and again in different organisations and their criticism could actually lead to some timely improvements if it wasn’t either negated or ignored.

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Occupying Boundaries.

28 Oct

when i moved to berlin 8 years ago (wow…), my first semester at uni was a very exciting one for many reasons; one of them, that it was not about studying at all. besides adjusting to a 3.5 million people-city, coming from a town of 15,000 people, and trying to grow up a little more on several levels (not that it’s done… ;)), coming to uni was a special experience, because this was the semester of something that happens periodically at universities:  a student strike against the looming introduction of tuition fees, the infamous chronic underfunding of public education and the traditionally hierarchical and increasingly neoliberal structuring and orientation of university politics.

during my first semester, in 2003/2004, this cycle had reached “point zero” again, and thousands of people got angry, attended plenary assemblies for hours, occupied buildings, planned direct actions, and marched  on a daily basis. one of the projects i was immediately involved in was the attempt to establish an “alternative” university structure, i.e. to provide the opportunity for students, teaching personal, non-academics and people who were just interested to come together in “open seminars”, discussing literature/politics/culture, learning a new language, etc., without the requirements of possessing a certain degree or falling into the increasingly small range of people accepted for uni enrollment due to a numerus clausus. the project was called “the open university of berlin” (offene uni berlins), and after repeated and tense negotiations with the university’s administration, it was actually recognised as a student initiative and even given a facility on campus. as the name suggests, this project’s most prominent asset, “openness”, turned out to be its strength and greatest weakness simultaneously and, ultimately, led to its closure a couple of years ago because it just ran out of control, sense and use.

as with (almost) all emerging social initiatives or even movements, channeling the various angles people are coming from in critiquing certain circumstances, events or even political systems is a bit of a challenge, to say the least. there seem to be some kind of “automatic” filters: e.g., people who were in it out of sheer curiosity or because of some sort of attention deficit problem seem to lose interest quite quickly, after a 8-hour-long plenary assembly at the latest. then there are certain processes, i.e., coming up with an agenda or programme and plan of action that some people disagree with, so the focus seems to clarify a bit further again.

however, “agenda” can mean many things, from working out an alternative budget/programme/structure to simply “we don’t want: …” without wanting to sound condescending, agreeing on the one thing you’re all against, e.g. bank bailouts,  is actually a great first step. it is, nonetheless, just one.

attending  “occupy wall street” (OWS) rallies and demonstrations about two weeks ago in new york city (…whereas this movement has now spread to hundreds of cities in the US and worldwide), the slogans, the people, the signs, the atmosphere were curiously reminiscent of the “open university” project and student strike and other political events i had attended before in berlin. as the open university and the student strike did, OWS seemed to put a particular emphasis on its “openness” to all sorts of people and ideas.

OWS in NYC actually has a general assembly that came up with a declaration; yet, despite the focus on the devastating impact of stock market “fails” and wall street in particular, it remains rather unclear what the movement stands for on a broader scale, i.e. regarding social inequality structures that are not uniquely related to wall street speculation; and that rang all sorts of “open university” bells (…which is not a good sign).

i agree that “openness” sounds awesome. this is how you invite and motivate people to get up and come along, this is how you make people feel welcome. it seems to be the exact opposite from what many people who are discriminated against experience on a daily basis, i.e., being shut out from certain communal identities, entitlements, spaces, rights. yet, the funny things about “openness” as a stand-alone political strategy is its follow-up rigidity and re-enforcement of these exact discrimination structures it supposedly fights, in my experience. “openness”, in this form, brings a hell lot of problems. i will even go so for to say that openness on its own is not a political concept, and is not even a value in itself without certain prerequisites.

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You’re Blocking Me In.

22 Jun

Isn’t it curious who calls themselves “feminist” lately? Sure, not Kristina Schröder, germany’s current secretary for family, women and youth affairs (the one person you might have expected to do so) who pretty much is the most unsuitable and outright irritating person in that position since Angela Merkel and her frilly blouse twenty years ago.

Her predecessor, Ursula von der Leyen, however, a member of the conservative christian democratic union (CDU) and mother of seven children, had no problem claiming feminism (albeit in a conservative twist) as her brand, and was  the one to implement “Elterngeld” (which losely translates as “parents money,” federally sponsored monetary support for new parents who take a leave of absence from work during the first 12 to 14 months of their child’s life) and somewhat half-compulsary “Vätermonate” (“father’s months”, which means that for at least 2 out of the 14 months parents are entitled to “Elterngeld,” the other parent – usually the father – has to take a leave of absence from work to claim the money).

[I might add here that it’s funny how early this term, “father’s months,” has caught on, even though it’s not specified who of the parents (in the official definition: mother and father – this is without a doubt another rampantly heterosexist piece of legislation) has to take the shorter span of time doing care work, and it has always been an option to divide the months of “Elterngeld” equally between partners. Apparently, only 12 per cent of recent fathers are aware of or care about that fact [PDF, p. 20], however, and take more than 2 months off from their job  (although that may have more differentiated reasons, one of them usually being his higher salary than her’s; a fact which the secretary for women’s affairs, Schröder, does not give a damn about).]

However faulty, heterosexist and deeply steepd in neoliberal idea(l)s “Elterngeld” is, it has been marketed (and predominantly perceived) as a breakthrough of “gender equality,” as a new policy of modern (conservative) feminism, epitomised by germany’s first female chancellor, Angela Merkel, who is still being applauded for her every move by germany’s oldest feminist magazine, Emma. Incidentally, Merkel is a conservative, a member of the CDU, and was far from emphasising feminism in her political career at any point.

Despite the differences regarding the political system and political culture between germany and the US, the latter has obviously had its own (even more peculiar…) “conservative feminists” influx lately, most prominently by Michelle Bachmann, seeking the GOP’s presidential nomination, and Sarah Palin (who secretly does the same, I guess). Although Jessica Valenti has written a great piece on why Palin’s brand of “mama grizzly” feminism can be labelled as a fake strategy to win over (allegedly) progressive voters whilst keeping the conservative ones with a simultaneous family-centred and anti-abortion stance,  it strikes me as interesting and noteworthy that women of the conservative persuasion seem to be able to take over the term “feminism” so easily (and willingly) and seemingly position themselves at the front of their political parties with great success.

Ruth Rosen has commented on the irony that (in many respects) ultraconservative women as the afore mentioned Tea Party icons would claim such a term, although “the religious right-wing had so successfully created an unattractive image of a feminist as a hairy, man-hating, lesbian who spouted equality, but really wanted to kill babies” during the 1980s.

Is it purely ironic, though? I’d say: Yes and No.

Yes, because the brand of feminism à la Palin and Bachmann is actually trying to void many of the term’s basic meanings. Just being a female politician does not make you a feminist (anymore…). If you are anti-abortion (or rather: pro forced-birth), you are not a (modern) feminist and have no business claiming that term for you. As Valenti has noted (and Palin & Co. repeatedly emphasised), the majority of “first wave” feminists were largely anti-abortion. I’d add: The majority of “first wave” feminists were also largely white supremacists. Hence, the sole advocacy for equal political rights does not make you a (modern) feminist; and ignoring ongoing feminist debates (within and around a movement that made it possible for Merkel et al. to stand where they stand today) for the past decades most certainly does not either.

Moreover, pursuing anti-feminist politics and/or ignoring discrimination excludes you from feminism – and it’s no surprise that the United Nations’ Report on gender discrimination in germany has come to the conclusion that “in significant areas,” the situation has actually been exacerbated rather than improved during the last years (although one has to obviously put that into global perspective). And ultimately, trying to void, re-brand and utilise ideas, histories and social movements for your own sake, after having fought and defamed them ferociously, makes this a really sad paradox, to say the least.

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