We’re tabling today at the Montreal Anarchist Bookfair! You should come by!
Two new zines! Freelance as Fuck about how freelance work is the worst and on (not) being queer (enough) on queer identities and privilege.
We’re tabling today at the Montreal Anarchist Bookfair! You should come by!
Two new zines! Freelance as Fuck about how freelance work is the worst and on (not) being queer (enough) on queer identities and privilege.
Next week, I will leave Halifax and head to Ontario to be employed in my first full-time, permanent job, ever. I will be a union member with a living wage and benefits. For the first time, I can dream of paying off my large student loan. I’ll get my teeth cleaned and get my eyes checked. I’ll save some money. While these might seem like very minimal successes, they are out of reach for many, if not most, of my peers.
I have been working part-time, precariously, on contract, and/or freelance since I was 15. Still, I am a lucky one. Having just turned 25, I spent all of my time in the demographic from 15 to 24, albeit about 8 months while in my first year of university, employed or being paid enough employment insurance to get by. In Nova Scotia, where I live, unemployment, including involuntary part-time employment, for youth age 15 to 24 was 31.9 per cent this June, up from just 17.2 per cent in June 2008.
Most of my friends work freelance. They’re writers, editors, researchers, designers, illustrators, photographers, even university employees. But none of them have consistent, secure work. And while the right would have you believe that the BA is a bee-line to being a barista, it’s more about what our society has come to value. There are increasingly fewer secure jobs for teachers, artists, designers, writers, journalists, social workers, youth workers, and librarians. This is not because we have a lesser need for quality education, research and ideas, cultural projects and institutions, critical media, or social services – it’s because current governments, the corporate elite, and the growing right in Canada is ideologically opposed to these elements of our society.
This attack is not only an attack on the middle class, or on those of us who are university educated. For people like me, who come from low income families it means that social mobility is a myth. In Nova Scotia, many low income folks have university educations because of more substantial assistance programs that existed for people in rural communities, single parents, and people with disabilities. The erosion of these programs along with massive tuition fee increases since the early nineties leave education out of reach of many Nova Scotians. For workers not looking for more education, but simply a job that offers a decent wage and benefits, the contracting out of services, and the union busting practices of corporations have meant that it is difficult for those with a high school diploma or less to get decent, well-paying jobs. When a hospital outsources its laundry or its food services, the labour cost savings comes on the backs of low income people.
Governments (even Nova Scotia’s supposed social democratic government) have also been unwilling to take a stand against the corporate agenda. Creating a fair tax system, where corporations pay their fair share would create revenue for our social programs, including expanding medicare, instituting fully-funded post-secondary education, and ensuring all families have access to high quality childcare. Instituting card check, so that it is easier for workers to organize unions in their workplace would help workers fight for better and safer working conditions, decent wages, and benefits for them and their families. These changes would vastly improve the lives of all working people, including those precariously employed in the service sector.
Also, despite anti-poor rhetoric and stereotypes held by people on the right and left alike, poor people like art and culture too. Publicly-funded art, music, theatre, and sport programs in our schools and in our communities are the ones that kids from low income families have access to. The rich will always be able to put their kids in private programs, in private schools with the best of this or that, but the rest of us rely on public funding to access facilities to learn everything from ceramics to swimming, cooking to woodworking. We should be sharing our collective resources for programs and spaces for people, no matter their income, to share and learn skills, build relationships, and spend time with people from their communities. We should dedicate resources to museums and art galleries, and we should provide the time and space for teachers to take their students to them, and the resources to eliminate admission costs (let’s start with once a week) and programs that get seniors and people living with disabilities to these important institutions to look at art, to learn about history, to hang out with people.
If we built schools, community centres, libraries, and community health centres, expanded public transportation across the province, created better community services for people living with mental health issues and addictions, and funded more museums, public art, and art galleries, we wouldn’t just create jobs for artists or teachers or social workers, but also for construction workers, cleaners, clerical staff, aid workers, kitchen workers, drivers, and more. All the while, creating healthier, more vibrant, and stronger communities.
If I could, I’d stay in Halifax. I’ve lived in Nova Scotia 7 years, and I love the place. I haven’t moved apartments in 5 years. I have a collection of political projects I love here, I have great friends. I like being able to ride my bike for a half hour and get to a lake. I love being next to the ocean. I wasn’t really looking to leave, but I’ll trek the 1800 km back to Toronto, where I grew up, because a job is there. People in Nova Scotia understand the pull of work. People throughout this province migrate west for work. Unemployment in some regions of the province is 15 per cent. I have been travelling between Toronto and Halifax over the past 7 years for a bunch of reasons, and these days, every plane I get on westward is Halifax-Toronto-Calgary. But don’t think for a moment that there can’t be strong public institutions, better community supports, and well-paying jobs with benefits here in Nova Scotia and everywhere. Jobs that don’t put our families at risk of death or dismemberment; services that are supportive and empower people to be able to make decisions about their own bodies and their own lives; vibrant arts and cultural institutions and programs, and communities filled with happier, healthier people; these are all things worth fighting for.
The following is the text of a speech I delivered at this year’s Halifax Dyke and Trans March. I thought I would share it here to mark Prisoner Justice Day, which is August 10. This year, in the Halifax Pride Parade, Crime Stoppers included a float that had a fake prison cell, indicating the ever present need to talk with mainstream LGBTQ communities about the realities in Canadian prisons.
Today, I’m going to talk about something we talk about a lot at marches and protests: justice for our communities. I’m also going to talk about something we don’t talk about very much; I’m going to talk about prisons. I’m going to talk about how queer and trans people are often criminalized and about what it’s like to be behind the walls of a prison when you’re a woman, or when you’re queer, or when you’re trans or gender non-conforming. I’m going to talk about how prisons don’t mean justice for our communities, and they definitely don’t mean liberation for queer and trans people.
Struggles for equality, justice, and dignity for queer and trans people continue to be waged. Sometimes, it can seem like the law and the police have the answer. If bashing was a hate crime and penalities were stiffer, maybe we would see fewer of our people experiencing violence. But we need to think about who derives safety from the police, and how systemic violence including sexism, homophobia, transphobia, racism, anti-poor ideologies, and colonialism is maintained and defended by the police.
When familes are evicted from their homes, it’s the police that do the evicting. When aboriginal women and sex workers face violence, rape, and murder, RCMP officers make jokes behind closed doors. When people with HIV and AIDS don’t disclose, the police are there to lock them up. When queer people come to Canada, fleeing homophobia, the government can say they’re lying and deport them. When migrant women without immigration status seek solace from sexual violence, rape, or domestic violence, Canada Border Service Agents wait for them outside shelters to detain and deport them. All around us, there are ways that the criminal legal system defends and perpetrates violence against our communities, and against other marginalized communities – especially racialized communities, migrant populations, and indegenous peoples.
Issues of violence and marginalization are so messily intertwined. When we think about homophobic and transphobic bullying, we should also think about all the young people who’ve fled dangerous homes and dangerous schools and are living on the edge. Maybe they’re selling drugs or shoplifting to get by. And because homophobia and transphobia and discrimination against youth permeate through our society, a young queer gets stopped and the police search them, and it’s illegal, but it happens, and there holding and then they’re in Waterville, and when they get out they still don’t have any supports, only now their resume shows a mysterious two year disappearance. When we think about violence against women, we should also think about the trans woman doing sex work who gets picked up in a sweep. And because she hasn’t had Sex Reassignment Surgery and can’t afford hormones right now, she’s placed in a men’s prison. She’s strip searched by men. She’s denied a bra. She is put in segregation because her “safety” is a concern because she’s a woman in a man’s prison.
These issues are issues in our communities and we need to treat them that way. We know that trans people. queer women, and gender non-conforming people still face barriers to gainful employment, to living wages, to work that respects our indentities. We still struggle to find supportive, knowledgeable health care professionals, and we face disproportionate levels of incarceration, criminalization, and struggles with addictions. In our prisons, people who have faced homophobia and transphobia and sexism their whole lives are punished for it. They’re re-traumatized, and they’re denied the most basic of rights.
The policing of gender is nowhere as strong than behind prison walls. There are men’s prisons and women’s prisons. There is no gender spectrum in the prison system. There are no gender neutral bathrooms, no spaces for the people who live outside the bound of those two very small boxes: M and F. In 1993, a trans woman incarcerated for life, Synthia Kavanagh, filed three complainted with the Human Rights Tribunal of Canada for her incarceration in a male prison. Eight years later, the human rights tribunal found in response to her case:
This decision ensures that trans and gender non-conforming people, particularly trans women, continue to be subjected to transphobic violence in the prison system including trans women being strip searched by male employees and being housed with men, trans people being denied gender aprorpiate health care, and often being housed in protective custody or segregation in order to address violence from the general population. But what if you’re not trans in the way that the medical system determines, maybe you’re not trans at all, but you’re gender non-conforming – you don’t adhere to strict gender roles. I know there are probably several dykes here today who love their boxer briefs. If you’re a woman in prison and you like boxer briefs – too bad. Boxer briefs are men’s underwear, and cross dressing is against prison policy. Maybe this seems so small, but not even being able to have the comfort of apropriate underwear is emblamatic of a system that aims to control your every move. And on top of all this – sex, consensual sex between inmates or even with yourself – is against the rules. No sex with other folks in prison. No jerking off. No reading or looking at porn. Sex is forbidden.
Rape, though – rape happens. And while rape in Canadian prisons is less common than our neighbours to the south, why would we even use that as a relative measure. One rape in prison is too many. And when we talk about sexualized violence – we don’t talk about prison rape. In fact, the Correctional Service of Canada and Statistics Canada don’t even have figures on sexual victimization in prisons.
Talking about prisons and policing means talking not only about “our people,” queers, trans folks, people who don’t fit in to rigid roles of the gender binary and heterosexuality, but also the people who have hurt us and hurt our communities – homophobic people, people who bash gays, people who commit violence against women, rapists. I can’t believe in a world that addresses problems by tearing people from their communities, by putting people in cages, by subjecting people to more and more violence, and so my understanding of justice has to mean justice for those people too.
There are lots of things that you can do to challenge the prison system and policing in our society. Look around you, and see how surveillance and policing is becoming integrated more and more into our lives. Maybe you’ve seen the body scanners at the airport. Those scanners can out trans folks in the interest of supposed safety. Take interest in the security measures used at your kids schools, how searches and surveillance are being normalized. Speak out against treating youth like criminals. Stand up against prison expansion in your community. If you’re a member of a union – try and talk to your co-workers about standing up against building more prisons, even if it means a few more jobs. Get to know your neighbours. Build community wherever you can. Speak out against government policies and laws that criminalize the poor, that criminalize people living with HIV and AIDS, that subject people changing their names to fingerprinting, that cut our public services. Defend programs in your community for youth, for aboriginal people, for people living with addictions, for those experiencing mental health issues.
There are a million ways to fight for a world without prisons and if we are committed to a project of collective liberation – for people of all sexualities and all genders – then prisons are our enemy. Prisons are the frontline of the battle to maintain the rigid M and F, to maintain the idea of the “man and women and baby make three” family. Everyday, as we speak, behind prison walls gender roles are heavily policed, and straying from those roles can lead to segregation or beatings, rape is used as a tool to maintain cisgendered and hetero supremacy, and more and more of our queer and trans siblings are being mistreated. And you know, we don’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about folks in prison. We don’t spend time thinking about how we can reach through those prison walls to say – we’re here. Even if you can’t see us, we are here and we think that addressing social problems with violence and with cages is the greatest injustice.
Kaley Kennedy is a young queer lady and prisoner justice activist. She has written on and spoken about the realities of Canadian prisons for a variety of audiences.
Emily and I have been busy with various projects and work! Emily has been working on a solo show at the Khyber (a local artist-run centre). Her show, Educate, Agitate, Organise, opened last week and is running until May 30. It is one of the events of Mayworks Halifax, a festival organised by the Halifax-Dartmouth District Labour Council to celebrate workers and the arts.
Here is a description of the show:
In her new work Agitate, Educate, Organise Emily Davidson investigates the problematic relationship artists have as both producers and workers. Agitate, Educate, Organise depicts vignettes of women’s labour history from the mid-nineteenth century until the early twentieth century with an installation of letterpress printed wallpapers. Drawing on William Morris’ decorative work from the late nineteenth century, Davidson repurposes the anti-industrial aesthetic of the Arts and Crafts movement to show the radical social history of women workers.
The show’s catalogue is a go it alone (together) publication, and includes a sheet of each of Emily’s five prints, a description of each scene, and an essay I wrote for the show. Emily and I have included the essay below.
Photos from the opening by Bredan, Dan and Rebecca.
In April, I gave a talk on prisons for a monthly series of political discussions on issues from an anti-capitalist approach called Living Theory.
Some of the people who attended wanted a copy of the presentation I gave, so I’ve posted it. It borrows from the first issue of our Papers for the People series.
Yesterday, I read this piece on the viral video, “Shit Girls Say.” It reminded me of this article I read a couple of weeks ago on the ways that women are constantly subjected to socialization that tells them they are crazy, so much so that women make these allegations towards themselves.
In both articles, the point is that women’s actions are constantly under watch. Women are constantly scrutenized for our actions – from what we’re wearing when we’re assaulted or raped to how political the music we make is and a million things in between.
Two personal experiences in the past week hit the daily reality of this scrutiny home.
Last week, I got on a metro train in Montreal on my way to a friend’s house for the night. I sat down and pulled out a knitting project I’ve been working on. Immediately, a man in his late twenties or early thirties said to me, “You’d be a good one to marry.”
This isn’t the first time someone (usually an older woman), has made this kind of statement to me in public. Usually, though, they express interest in what I am doing, say hi, ask me how my day is going, before making a statement about how my aptitude in needlecraft makes me good wife material. Usually it offends me. I’m not a fan of the institute of marriage. I don’t take lightly to being presumed straight and looking for a husband by my choice of passtime.
But last week on the subway, there was no greeting, no inquiries into how I was, or any interest in exactly what I was doing. Simply, my knitting, makes me a good spousal candidate, and that is the only information that is necessary. I was tired and alone and in a city that isn’t my home, so I just looked at the floor, not making eye contact or responding to the comment. When the man got off he told me to have a good night.
Then yesterday, I went to see Fucked Up, one of my favourite bands, play at a benefit for the COUNTERfit Harm Reduction Program, and the Barriere Lake Legal Defense Fund. I was tired after having dinner and drinks with a friend earlier in the night.
I yawned and the next thing I know, some guy comes up to me to say that I “need to stop yawning because yawning is really contagious, and we all have to work in the morning.” He then apologized (not), by saying, “I’m sorry to have to call you out on that, but I’m trying to keep the atmosphere going, you know.”
To set the stage, we’re at a show, watching a hardcore band with hundreds of other people, and this guy is telling me I shouldn’t yawn because it will ruin the atmosphere. I wish I was making this up.
Again, because I was tired and kind of shocked, I didn’t say anything. But all I could think of was what if I was a young mom who was up all day running around with my kids or if I was caring after an ailing parent or if I was working two jobs and going to school or a number of other realities young women like me take on all the time and now some shit was telling me not to yawn.
Both of these experiences, though, were reminders about how perfect strangers feel like it is totally ok to not only judge and scrutinize the most banal of women’s actions, but also comment on them. These are some of the everyday ways that women’s behaviour is judged and regulated in our society.
I wish in both cases I’d shot back with some witty statement, but I stayed quiet. I’m going to try to get better at that.
But for dudes, specifically, if your friends pull this kind of shit, call them on it. Ask them who they think they are to assume that girls want to get married, or that telling someone not to yawn is a jerk move. And if you find yourself feeling the need to scrutenize or comment on the behaviour of perfect strangers, maybe just consider keeping your mouth shut.
A couple of days ago, I received an email from Scholarships Canada, a listserv service I signed up for six or seven years ago when I was first preparing to go to university, with the subject line “My Library Matters to me Contest.”
The email read:
Our public libraries are in danger of being closed or privatized by Toronto City Council’s cost cutting. This could mean the loss of a powerful educational and cultural force through branch closures, service reductions and program cutbacks.
In response, OurPublicLibrary.to and some of the biggest Canadian authors are hosting a contest. You are invited to submit a written or video essay on “Why My Library Matters to Me” by September 9th, 2011.
Children 12 and under can submit a short essay or a drawing!
Thanks for your support,
The ScholarshipsCanada Team
P.S. Keep our libraries open. Sign this petition.
The email was surprising to me since ScholarshipsCanada is a website tool for students looking for scholarship money, not a political organisation. Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s attacks on libraries in Toronto are so unpopular, that this website service felt the need to implore its subscribers to do something to defend this powerful educational and cultural force.
Despite claims from Ford, his brother Councillor Doug Ford, and their ilk, the Toronto Public Library system is growing:
The marvel is that in the wireless era, bricks-and-mortar libraries have become not less relevant, but more so. The [Toronto Public Library] recorded 18 million visits to its 98 branches in 2010, a 4-per-cent increase over 2009. The number of cardholders rose 4 per cent too, reaching 1.25 million. Library users borrowed 32 million items, making the TPL the busiest big-city library system (based on items borrowed per capita) in the world. No wonder that in a recent public consultation, residents rated libraries a high priority, placing them eighth on a list of 35 city services, ahead of police, parks and recreation centres.
People will notice changes to library services, they will miss branches if they close, and library cuts will impact communities.
Libraries are where we hold community meetings, where workshops happen, where young people hang out, where people take English classes, where after school programs happen, where people find their political voices. My childhood libraries, some of the branches Doug Ford has claimed no one will miss, are where I did my homework, where I read Judy Bloom books as a pre-teen, where I discovered politics, where I learned about independence and autonomy, but also about community and diversity. The library was where I saw who my community was: mostly racialised people, immigrants from all around the world, young people and old people.
They are also sites of struggle. In 2005, librarians in Connecticut challenged the USA PATRIOT Act, refusing to give over patron records. The American Library Association plainly asserts that it ” opposes any use of governmental power to suppress the free and open exchange of knowledge and information or to intimidate individuals exercising free inquiry…ALA considers that sections of the USA PATRIOT ACT are a present danger to the constitutional rights and privacy rights of library users.”
People all over the UK protested library closures this past February, with Save Our Libraries Day. One library even emptied its shelves by having all of it’s patrons take out the 15 books they’re entitled to.
For people who believe in the need for radical social change, the fight to defend libraries is an extremely important one. Libraries are the most hopeful institutions our communities still have, and not only can they be used as a hub for community organising, but they are a familiar example of what a more just society could look like.
Libraries espouse the principle of the commons. Our communities own library holdings collectively, and libraries are one of the last indoor public spaces. In an increasingly alienated society, libraries continue to be a place where communities convene.
Libraries are radical. And people love them.