Wednesday, December 28, 2011
On December 21st of this year was the longest night of the year, and many cultures around the world celebrate this time by gathering and telling stories, honouring the dark and cold space that allows us to go within ourselves and welcome the light as the the Earth begins to spin closer to the Sun, stretching the days out longer once more.
As a feminist scholar, Solstice is a time when I contemplate the intersections between feminism and spirituality. While many feminist schools of thought oppose religion as the strong arm of patriarchal power that has historically oppressed people and in particular reinforced gender binary systems that have positioned womyn as subordinate.
Still, I do see both a revolutionary and emancipatory power in having a spiritual life, which for myself takes place outside of organized religion. This path of spiritual growth has in many ways been a lifeline for me as a grad student in some of my darkest moments of discouragement and despair.
Since becoming a graduate student in September 2009, I’ve also had the pleasure to meet my spiritual teacher and connect with a variety of feminist allies who have supported me on a spiritual path and in turn, sustained me through my studies. Graduate studies can sometimes be a very dark and isolated place where you are alone with your work. Solstice night reminds me of the long and dark stretches of time where I sit facing my computer, waiting for the light of inspiration to dawn on me and bring me the energy to write about this work I am so passionate about.
I had a conversation with a friend who recently defended her thesis and confided how inspiring and humbling it was to see her complete her work. She had always seemed so disciplined to me, which positioned her as a role model for me. When I confided in her how impressed I was with her completing her work the conversation evolved into a discussion on how grad school is sometimes beyond a question of capacity and ability to do the work. Indeed, we both agreed that we had never doubted our own capacity, passion or commitment to the work. But what comes to the surface in the isolation of writing a dissertation is the struggle with your own inner demons.
Solstice night reminds me so poignantly of how these demons can obscure the spark of inspiration and sometimes make you believe that you will never see the end of your project. But even the longest night does come to an end, and as the days begin to get longer from our limited perspective on this planet, I know that with patience, dedication and belief in myself I will be able to complete my degree.
As a feminist, I have found tremendous empowerment and inspiration in turning to the immutable laws of the Universe to remind me of my place in the greater scheme of things. Ultimately, this paradox requires both that I believe in my capacity and also surrender myself to a higher purpose. In other words, while these long hauls in isolation facing the inner demons challenge me on my path as a graduate student, I know that once I complete this process I can make important contributions to social justice, inspire those I meet along the way to do the same, and do my small part to making the world a better place, hopefully sharing a bit of light and joy along the way.
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Monday, October 24, 2011
As young feminists, as allies of sex workers, and for some of us, as sex workers ourselves, we understand choice, bodily autonomy, respect for experiential knowledge and diversity of experiences as core feminist principles. For us, this includes supporting sex workers, acknowledging sex work as labour, respecting the choice to engage in or transition out of the industry, and fighting for the decriminalization of prostitution, which we maintain would increase sex workers’ safety and autonomy, and allow for improved occupational health and safety, and labour organizing. This involves listening to sex workers, respecting the diversity of our experiences, and not assuming we are all victims. Our position is that sex workers are members of the community, and more specifically, of feminist movement(s), that deserve the same respect and entitlements as our neighbours.
While we have observed that anti-sex work feminists (who self-identify as abolitionists but who we will refer to as prohibitionists because we do not believe that sex work is slavery) have taught us to expect a cold welcome at best at pan-feminist gatherings. However, we are deeply saddened by some of the experiences that sex workers have experienced during the Women’s Worlds conference. In two of three sex worker rights events, prohibitionists loudly and aggressively interrupted, drowned out, and humiliated presenters (some of whom were current or former sex workers), accusing them of being complicit in capitalism and the exploitation of women, but most importantly, of not being feminists.
Sex workers found their experiential knowledge being discredited, and were offended at the content of many events at the conference, which appeared to award greater space to anti-sex work positions, notably the Fleshmapping exhibit that took place in the University Centre throughout the conference. Sex workers who desired to make an alternative reading of sex work more visible in this space decided to silently occupy the adjoining hallways, making resource and other materials available publicly. We were subsequently verbally abused by a large group of prohibitionists.
The Ottawa RebELLEs stood in solidarity with this group and our members witnessed these events as attacks that reduced some sex workers to tears during the conference. It is our stance that these actions undermine the space set out for dialogue and constitute a direct attack not only on sex workers themselves but on democratic and feminist processes for dialogue.
As young feminists, we acknowledge the importance of this issue and feel that the polarization of this debate is harmful to sex workers, allies, activists and all interested parties. We advocate for an open dialogue from a peace-building perspective, which requires moderated and facilitated spaces for exchange. Large international feminist gatherings such as Women’s Worlds 2011 are ideal spaces to open dialogue on these critical issues and we feel that these discussions should include the participation of sex workers themselves.
We recommend that future Women’s Worlds conferences consider this feedback in working towards providing the opportunity for participation, meaningful dialogue, and safe spaces for everyone, including sex workers. We also recommend that any feminist gathering or event should do the same, and look forward to continuing discussions that include sex workers and provide spaces for exchange that hinge of peaceful dialogue and the inclusion of voices that speak from experiential knowledge.
The Ottawa RebELLEs
This contribution was prepared by Maria-Hélèna Pacelli and is inspired by and adapted from a letter prepared by Tulia Law and Celine Couchesne of the Students for Sex Workers Rights, University of Ottawa, addressed to Women’s Worlds 2011. It stands as part of the Ottawa RebELLEs ongoing work to supporting sex workers rights, but does not claim to represent all members of the RebELLEs movements.
Thursday, October 20, 2011
If you're going to be reading my blog, you should know right off the bat that I am a feminist. This will at times seep into my analysis of a situation, and at other times be blatantly obvious in the content matter. So I hope you're comfortable with, or interested in learning more about, feminisms. Yes, it's plural here because feminism is not by any means monolothic in my view and its plurality here highlights the diversity of practices, tactics and positions that feminist movements can embody. I take a post-structuralist position when it comes to knowledge and cannot claim I know everything about feminisms, but my years as a community organizer and activist have informed my practice and allowed me to (un)learn so much - and I've only just begun.
I haven't always strictly identified as a "woman" nor been properly gendered, though I generally pass as a woman and identify myself as such in public settings. I've been called "tomboy", "mistaken" for a boy, called "masculine", at times androgynous, or at least not the most generic brand of constructed femininity and sometimes left people wondering. Lately I've been more feminine, or femme, exploring aspects of femininity I had previously ignored within myself, and reclaiming the identity of "woman" as part of my social location. The first time I had heard about Women's studies I sensed it was something that would peg me into an artificial femininity, that I had to more fully identify as a woman to be included in this space, and dismissed an entire wealth of activism and scholarship that later helped me unpack and understand my complex relationship to sex and gender.
After completing a Fine arts degree at Concordia University, I navigated towards the University of Ottawa where I am currently completing my Master's in Women's Studies. I began realizing some of the discrepancies between academic feminism and street/activist feminism while simultaneously being confronted by some of the oppressive structures of academia that are being challenged and upheld simultaneous by feminisms inside and outside academia.
One of the spaces that has been instrumental in supporting my journey through academia and where I can put into practice the theories I learn in the classroom - while also learning and unlearning so much that informs how I read what I am exposed to in that same classroom - is the Ottawa RebELLEs collective. This local feminist collective is an offshoot of the pan-canadian (this word irks me with its colonial implications, but I won't get into that here) decentralized young feminist movement Toujours RebELLEs. While not being strictly a campus group, this collective is a UOttawa OPIRG action group and has already been active on UOttawa campus, marking the start of the semester with a presence at ALT-101's social justice fair on September 9, 2011.
Our most recent event took place on UOttawa campus Thursday October 6th, 2011 entitled . Partly inspired by bell hook's book titled "feminism is for everybody", this public event "You're not a feminist are you? (...but feminism is for everybody)" invites participants to a discussion on what feminism means to them, what feminist issues play out in their lives, and how feminism is still totally relevant for everybody.
We booked Café Alt for this event before the Occupy Mouvement insipaded the city and Occupy Ottawa usurped, it seems, campus activist energy for that day. We had a number of attendees present at our event and cut our discussions short so that people could join in on the Occupation. This raises some important implications for campus activism and feminist oganizing alike. The haste to ditch existing discussions on the continuining relevance of feminism is not only reflected in some of the sexist, racist and colonialist (to name a few) implications of the Occupy Movement, but it it supposes that feminist discussions should be set aside rather than included as a part of broader anti-capitalist struggles like Occupy Movement.
Meanwhile, as campus radicalism joins beautifully into a community-writhing mosaic of working towards a better world by making it happen right now, some of the principles that underlie this movement fall short. The analysis of Occupy Together forgets the political constituency of 51% of the 99% that it stands for.
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Thursday, September 29, 2011
We've been up to a car load of fun this summer/spring! Winnipeg rebELLEs conference, demystifying sex work workshop, tabling at multiple awesome events, rad craftivism events, Women's World, participating in actions like Take Back the Night, forming a radical cheerleading squad and soooo much more!
In that same light, we've shaped our meetings so that we have a discussion group every first Thursday of the month, open to everyone! Our first one is axed on what is feminism! Check out our facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=158366514251295
We'll have delicious free food! It'll be on Oct 6th, at 6:30pm at Cafe Alt, on the U Ottawa campus. If you need help finding where Café Alt is, there will be arrows around the campus to direct you!
Also, for anyone interested in our radical cheerleading, we have a facebook group that we post our meetings (that are very sporadic) on! -- https://www.facebook.com/groups/140285949393969/ For folks who are not on facebook, send an email our way at email@example.com and we'll add you to our list!
Anddddd last but not least, if you want to have more updates regularly of what our group does, join our offical ottawa collective group at: https://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=290083580483!
Joe (The tall loud girl the the megaphone at Take Back The Night!)
Monday, June 13, 2011
Our revolution is now! Over 350 young feminists from across Canada and Quebec assembled at the University of Winnipeg over the 2011 May long weekend for the second Pan-Canadian Young Feminist Gathering. This four-day, grassroots and participatory event was packed with action, dialogue, anger, tears, discussion, networking and a lot of laughter and celebrating as we tackled core issues that are at the heart of feminism today.
Entitled Notre Révolution Féministe, Our Revolution is Now, this second gathering built upon the foundation laid at the first pan-Canadian gathering held in Montréal in 2008. This gathering marked the beginning of theRebELLEs movement -- where young feminists gathered together to fight the rise of the right, defend women's rights and continue to improve the lives of girls and women in our home communities and worldwide.
Using a collective process, participants created and adopted the RebELLEs Manifesto, the political basis of unity for our movement. Since the first gathering in Montréal, we have been mobilizing across Canada and Quebec, with RebELLEs groups holding creative actions in communities including Whitehorse, Ottawa, Saguenay, Montreal and many others. We have been marching, mobilizing, protesting and holding other political actions to make change in our communities.
The organizing process for the 2011 RebELLEs Gathering was decentralized, consensus-based and intentionally planned by and for young feminists. As the on-the-ground organizers, FemRev -- a grassroots feminist collective in Winnipeg -- worked to cultivate a non-hierarchical environment that would foster the learning and sharing of young feminists' knowledge, skills, analysis and strategies for action to make change in our home and wider communities.
A decentralized, pan-Canadian consultation process was developed in order to ensure the inclusion of voices and priorities of young feminists from all corners of the country. Throughout these pan-Canadian consultation meetings, RebELLEs identified five action areas which we felt were most relevant to the current feminist movement and most urgent to address in our current political climate. These action areas are violence against women, peace and demilitarization, anti-racism and decolonization, environmental justice and poverty as well as anti-capitalism. Throughout the gathering, workshops were facilitated with the goal of creating a set of resistance actions, alternatives and demands for each of these action areas, which would then be taken to the larger group and collectively adopted as one document to guide the RebELLEs movement's political actions.
The weekend held many formal and informal activities, workshops and events which gave space and voices to young feminists for developing and deepening our feminist analysis -- these included creative and thematic workshops, discussions within the five action areas, a community march and feast, identity group caucusing, interactive and participatory plenary sessions, panel presentations, a game of feminist jeopardy and a cabaret and dance party to celebrate our movement.
No matter the love, care and analysis that goes into planning an event of this scale, oppressions can and are often reproduced within activist communities. Some participants of the RebELLEs Gathering reported experiences of racism, homophobia and ableism, among others, within the weekend's activities. As disheartening as this is, it is also a reminder of how strong the oppressive patriarchal and racist ideologies are within our culture and even within our work. Though we have good intentions and values, our actions and interactions are still influenced by these negative forces and at times reproduce the same power imbalances that we are fighting against.
In a truly grassroots and participatory event, with feminists who hold a variety of backgrounds and experiences, these ingrained systems of oppression were revealed within our own movement. Upon discovering what was occurring within the smaller workshops, with an intense conversation and discussion, the organizing committee recognized the opportunity which was being introduced at this gathering for us to truly put our analysis and knowledge into action, and to bring light to the injustices which were occurring within our own community.
The organizing committee took the brave step of deciding to respond to the feedback they were given by the gathering's participants. Monday morning, originally scheduled to adopting the resistance, actions, alternatives and demands document, was altered and rescheduled to provide a space for the voices of those experiencing oppression within our movement to be heard and shared. After hearing from a number of groups, participants were invited to organize autonomously to discuss and explore how we, as young feminists, are building our movement -- what we should keep doing, and what needs to change.
Each group was invited after the consultations to share and speak their voices to all participants. It was difficult to hear how patterns of oppression were being modelled within our movement, but it was also a revolutionary step for RebELLEs to actively stop, respond and create space for all of our participants to listen and share with each other. Though we did not collectively edit and adopt our set of priorities for action, we did come out of the weekend with a much stronger sense of who we are, who we want to be and our commitment and priorities for how we will continue to work together as a pan-Canadian young feminist movement.
It has now been almost three weeks since the gathering took place. What now? Where do we go from here? Ending the gathering on a challenging note, after a weekend of little sleep and intense, important discussion, many of us are feeling frustrated, tired and not sure how to proceed. It is in these difficult moments that it is crucial to remember that we are constantly evolving; not only as individuals but also as a movement of young feminists.
We all hope for a movement where every woman feels safe and represented at all times, but as feminists we know that this is not always attainable. While we continue to strive for this, we also recognize the beauty inherent in this struggle; in the relationships and trust we form as young feminists trying to understand and unravel the complexities of oppression. We remember to proceed boldly but carefully, mindful of the limitations that exist in a non-funded, decentralized, volunteer-run grassroots movement.
While we remember that process is essential, we need to remember not to let process impede action. As imperfect as our movement may be, it is still important to take action on issues which we can all agree on. Action and process need to co-exist, and should happen simultaneously. RebELLEs will continue to speak out against the injustices we see, within ourselves and also within the oppressive structures around us. While we strive to live justly and struggle with our internal challenges, we will not lose our momentum for action. We will use these new fires, new friendships and new level of trust to propel us forward as agents of change. This growing process is a struggle, and it is also a joy, as we continue to fight against oppression of women everywhere.
Monday, April 4, 2011
So after our pretty successful Meet’n Greet, that was held at Avant Garde Bar a couple weeks back we had our first activity/social function open to new interested parties. It was BUTTON MAKING!
If I sound a little bit too excited about it, IT'S because I am. I first volunteered to make RebELLEs Buttons for us to sell to fund raise for our little adventure to Winnipeg for the pan-Canadian conference. The first time around I made the buttons all wrong and It was kinda a sucky experince.I wasn’t a happy ReBELLE. After that I Encouraged our whole group (read: whined too much) to get involved and I can’t remember having a better Saturday afternoon. I was doing the button making all wrong. Crafting is about creating something new, wild and amazing.
Crafting has long been recognized (or so I’ve been told as I am not really the crafty type but more like the bull-in-the-china-shop type who isn’t really “allowed” around crafting) as a wonderful social activity. And it was, we sat around, creating beautiful deep/silly/sexual/political/thoughtful/radical/heart-felt/random buttons all the while (as we would say in Alberta) shooting the shyt feminist style (okay they don’t really say Feminist style all that often). You know..talking about life, the things that really matter to us and our world and what WE'RE gonna do to learn more, act out more and in general kick ass(es) as our manifesto lays out. (If you haven’t read IT you should check it!)**http://www.rebelles.org/en/manifesto
Which is exactly why I GOT so darn excited HAVING button making as an event for people interested in getting more involved in the rebELLEs.
Activism, feminism and politics are complicated to say the least but whatI like about all of them are the ideas, the beautiful people, the criticalreflection, a space to challenge yourself (on ideas, your own privilege)and arena to work together. Does button making do that? Well IT DOES when you have a room full of beautiful FEMINISTS, creative children,thought provoking magazines to tear down and build back up into buttons.
Lots of activist-y things and groups are about meeting and organizing(which is pretty important) but sometimes people just need to come together to make buttons and to shoot the shyt feminist style.
I had a really great time at this event getting to know people, felt some new crafty-satisfaction in creating counter-cultural radical art in the form of buttons. I hope others did too and will stick around to help the young feminist movement/ideas grow!
And last but not least the Ottawa rebELLES also want to thank the
University of Ottawa OPIRG for letting us use their space and buttonmaking machiney thingy.