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Hanukkah and finding hope at end of 2016

December 31, 2016 Leave a comment

I like it when Hanukkah coincides with Christmas, as it did this year. I tend to do ALL THE HOLIDAYS, especially given how grim 2016 has felt, and coming into the misery of winter (I do try and look for the positives, but when its grey, rainy, cold and dark outside so much of what I do to cheer myself up and enjoy life – spontaneous bike rides into the mountains or seaside, hillwalking, wild camping, exploring highlands and islands – is less available/fun (Scotland is rainy rather than snowy so far) and so I need to work harder at keeping the glums at bay) I go fullout tinsel, pretty lights, christmas foods (3 batches of homemade mince pies this year!) and annual trip to the forest to fetch in an evergreen tree to decorate for solstice. Plus Hanukkah – my spiritual practice reflects my dual roots of family heritage and geographical home; from the latter I take christmas, hogmanay and solstice.

Last year for Hanukkah I focused each night on inspirations that lit up the darkness and spread hope and possibility for change. This year I didn’t feel that so much. So I read some  mainstream Hanukkah reflections and this particularly touched me:

“[W]hat was the miracle of the first night? The light that should have lasted one day lasted eight. But that means there was something miraculous about days 2 to 8; but nothing miraculous about the first day.

Perhaps the miracle was this, that the Maccabees found one cruse of oil with its seal intact, undefiled. There was no reason to suppose that anything would have survived the systematic desecration the Greeks and their supporters did to the Temple. Yet the Maccabees searched and found that one jar. Why did they search? Because they had faith that from the worst tragedy something would survive. The miracle of the first night was that of faith itself, the faith that something would remain with which to begin again.

(from http://www.rabbisacks.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/8-Short-Thoughts-for-8-Chanukah-Nights.pdf )

And so it is with the spirit of resistance, the spirit of  that is one of the things I mean when I speak of G-d in prayers.

What did I hear again and again following brexit and then again after Trump was elected? “Lets get to work” I’m sure you all did too. An *upsurge* in people looking to respond to darkness with action. People did not give up, despite all the racism and nationalism… no, *because* of the racism and nationalism. I have witnessed more and more people, previously unwilling to take action, now wanting to stand up and be counted, to pin their colours to a progressive mast and to counteract this apparent rightwing lurch. Just a quick example because I have it to hand – neveragain.tech.

“We have hope. Rebellions are built on hope!”

There was no reason to believe that any hope would have survived the systematic desecration Trump, BoJo, Farage and their supporters did to ordinary people. And yet I did not have to search at all to hear hope and inspiration pouring from all sides.

In many ways progressive movements are almost in a stronger position now than at the start of the year. In no way am I happy that Trump/Brexit happened – I grieve for the lives already affected by the emboldenment of racists, by those fearing their lives will be uprooted due to national borders, to the set back climate change action is already seeing. But all this is in a context of an existing white supremacist society. #BlackLivesMatter arose in response to racist attacks during the Obama years. The Paris climate accords that Trump is about to rip up were never enough anyway. Inequality, injustice, poverty, oppression, inhumane treatment of refugees – these are rampant and have been for years. Our political and economic systems continue to prove how unsuited they are to providing for safe, meaningful and sustainable lives and communities; given that they were never designed to do this, perhaps not so surprising.

But now, now with the dual shocks of brexit and trump demonstrating that business as usual is not just shit, but full on accelerating full-pelt to hell catastrophic, I see, unexpectedly, candle flames of hope, resistance and solidarity lighting up one after another wherever I look.

***

Hanukkah is also this slow build up. Its not a one day thing – you have to keep lighting night after night for 8 days. And so it is with creating a better world – you start by lighting the one candle, finding that one flame of hope, but you need to keep going; day after day, month after month, year after year, generation after generation we need to keep lighting new candles from the ones already burning.

And just as the Hanukkah story is that a meagre amount of oil lasted far longer than was expected, so too must we sustain and nourish the hope we see around us to last us through the upcoming dark days through to the light ahead.

***

Here is my Hanukkah blessing. I say the usual orthodox blessing in Hebrew, but here is the intention and meaning I imbue it with:

Blessed are you, spirit of resistance, who sanctifies my life by showing me how to make it meaningful, and inspires me to kindle the Chanukah light.

Blessed are you, spirit of resistance, who wrought miracles for those who struggled for a better world, in those days and at this time.

Blessed are you, spirit of resistance, who has kept me and the wider working class alive, sustained our hearts, bodies and minds, and brought us to this season.

And then I take a minute to remember how impossible the odds must have felt for those who struggled before me, and how victory would have seemed to require a miracle at the start, for those fighting colonialisation, slavery, dictatorship, and yet now so much of that is in the past*. One day let future generations say the same about these dark times.

 

* for inspiring stories of how much people have overcome through collective struggle, courage, solidarity and hope try https://www.facebook.com/workingclasshistory/

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My input on sex work and queer issues during last night’s #LSEanarchism panel

December 5, 2014 Leave a comment

Hey. This feels a bit weird/egotistical to write, as I don’t feel I’m the best at speaking and especially not writing (I’m not just being modest – there are things I kickass at! ;p ) and I’ve not come up with anything groundbreaking. I felt compelled to speak last night at LSE’s discussion on “Anarchism and Sexuality” because the panelists gave really interesting talks on historical Anarchists perspectives on sexuality, but a lot of views, particularly around sex work (looking at you Mujeres Libras!) are very dated and oppressive. Also questions came up around what contemporary Anarchists thought about campaigns for same sex marriage. Anyway, I gave a kind of nervous rant but folks seemed to like it and as the majority of those there last night (as least who spoke from the audience and who I spoke to afterwards) aren’t Anarchists and are interested in Anarchist ideas, I’m just writing roughly what I said.

On sex work, as was said during the talks, as Anarchists we believe struggles should be led by those affected, and so we have learned, especially from the sex workers within our own movements, that sex work is work, and not a unique case where “prostitutes” must be rescued from their degradation.

All work is degrading under capitalism. Why single out sex work, and ignore call centre workers, or those working in McDonalds or sweat shops? Under capitalism nobody really has freedom of choice, and our working conditions and the way we are treated is degrading. Those with truly socially important roles such as cleaning or care-work are looked down upon and undervalued.

Patriarchal views on sex are that, in hetero relations, the man (or top during same gender pairings) gains something, whilst the woman (or “bottom”) loses. This sexist garbage really colours social outlooks on sex work – whore shaming and rapes/other violent assaults on sex workers are the inevitable result. How much of our perception that sex work is inherently degrading comes from this? Do we view female sex workers, or rentboys in the same way as we think of gigolos? And there’s the ongoing double standard regarding males and females and the acceptability of casual sex.

To learn more I strongly recommend the Sex Workers Open University

The other thing I wanted to talk about was Anarchism and queer politics. We critique mainstream LGBTq obsessions with the pink pound and same-sex marriage as in large part being about sanitising queerness – “don’t be afraid, we’re not going to change social norms – we just want to be consumers and get married like the rest of you!” Apart from how this privileges certain LGTBTq folks over others – those who have money to spend and those who want monogamous relationships – its also irrelevant. Basic Anarchist principles are that you are free to do what you like, as long as it doesn’t harm anyone else. Why should we try to gain the acceptance of some mythical mainstream, when what we are doing doesn’t affect anyone else? Homophobia is not wrong because “look, we’re just like you”. We fight for freedom for all to live and love as they wish, straight or queer, monogamous or poly, kinky or vanilla, asexual, aromantic or celibate. As the panelists mentioned often same-sex marriage campaigns are driven even by those critical of bringing the state into the bedroom, because of how access to housing, pensions and insurance are dependent on marriage certificates – whereas actually housing etc should be available to all.

I think there’s another reason people, even Anarchists, choose to get married, and that’s as a marker of a life event. Celebrating stages in life, “hatches, matches and dispatches”, coming of age, and the changing seasons and years are meaningful to people. But the default ways of socially recognise such events, particularly important romantic/sexual relationships, is through a legal or religious marriage. Instead of criticising those who go down that route, we should find new ways of celebrating life events. We should evolve and create our own rituals and commemorations that recognise and honour relationships, rather than just the default of a state sanctioned wedding.

Anyway, that was pretty much what I said last night, I think. Afterwards folks wanted to know what groups I was involved with, where I’d learned so much and who was the “we” I referred to. The easy answer is that I’m in the Anarchist Federation, and in both the gender oppressed (women, trans*, nonbinary and anyone else who feels oppressed because of gender) and queer caucuses within that. But that’s just the formal answer. The real answer is that I have learned from living my life, and from doing so within communities that are also just getting on and doing it, trying things out, reflecting, chatting, listening and supporting. I guess I’m really lucky. We have formal meetings and discussions, but we also have long informal times, for example during the 7 month Free Hetherington occupation, or just whilst socialising with friends, and I feel that these are the most constructive. In a meeting, or worse at a “debate”, the goal is to win people over and sell a particular viewpoint. That doesn’t lead (imo) to learning or creating new ideas or philosophies together. For instance often we learn because of our fuckups – and its hard to share and collectively learn from those in a public meeting. Or getting pulled up on our shit, which we all have from our ongoing socialisation in a patriarchal, white supremacist culture. In informal settings we can play with ideas. The shy people find their voices. Those who feel they’re too new to contribute, ask questions and share their opinions, and blow the minds of the wise elders!

One reason I felt sheepish speaking last night and writing this today is because nothing I’ve said is cutting edge in the communities I inhabit. So I guess that’s the most important insight perhaps from Anarchism on sexuality; by prefiguring the society we want to live in, we learn and grow and develop as individuals and communities far more than any amount of theorising or formal lessons can do. Direct action means those who are oppressed taking initiatives that change the immediate conditions of their oppression. By creating queer spaces and communities we challenge heteronormativity by trying out queer ways of being in safe environments – these can include pride marches or more confrontational taking of spaces such as queer occupations of sites of homophobia. We don’t try to appeal to the Daily Mail with exhortations of how we were just born this way so please don’t blame us, but instead we boldly state that yes we reject patriarchal, heteronormative gender roles and relations. That our bodies, sexualities and gender presentations are ours to do with what we will. I think in doing this we also offer liberation to those who might still choose heterosexual, monogamous, vanilla life partnerships because at least know that that is your choice, that you are not compelled to do so, but followed rather what suited you and your partner best, and actually had those awesome conversations with them, and made it explicit. Just like vanilla people can learn from kinky people about consent, and monogamous people can learn from polyamory about talking through boundaries and working through jealousy. In the end, in an ideal Anarchist society, none of this would be remarkable. There will be no “queer Anarchism” just like we have no need for “blond haired Anarchism” – without oppression there is no need to develop specific organising around identity and we can all get on with our awesomely diverse and meaningful lives together.

What Rachel Corrie gave me

August 28, 2013 Leave a comment

I was with Rachel Corrie on 16th March 2003 when she was killed by the military industrial complex, or more proximally by the Israeli army via a soldier driving a bulldozer who was just one cog of that particular machine.

This is something I only bring up with close friends before, because it is ridiculously narcissistic to be talking about what the ending of such an incredible life as Rachel’s meant for me, still able to walk and talk and love and laugh and fight for a better world.

But now more than ten years on, I’m going to write this on my personal blog.

That day was like a pivot that I swung around and everything changed. I remember even just a couple of days afterwards looking with this fresh new clarity and certainty at what I’d thought before and feeling astonished. It wasn’t that I was naive about what occupation, war and capitalism could do, but that before my role in changing this was more like somebody playing an engrossing game – after Rachel was killed it became my life’s purpose. Afterwards this is what I can and do give my life for, whether that means because I die directly fighting for what I believe in, or because its what I dedicate the hours and days and years I have alive for.

Here’s a not too gruesome picture of just after she was run-over by the bulldozer.  I’m on the left with bleached hair. About now she says her final words “my back is broken” and all pictures from this scene show me holding her head, stabilising her spine as I was trained to by uncle Doc Rosen.

Who was Rachel to me that her killing was so pivotal? A friend, but not a close one. I attach to folks slowly and we’d only known each other about 7 weeks. I liked her well enough, but she was not someone who’s personality I instantly felt an affinity and close bond with. I imagine that that would have changed as time does to relationships especially in such intense surroundings. As I said, I did like her but she was not so close that her death would have changed things as much as they did.

A patient? Well yes, she was one of my first patients. And now, with ten years of caring for people as first aider and nurse, there is a particular hard to describe feeling, like a mixture of responsibility and mission and protection and advocacy, towards my patients, but I had yet to develop that back then.

No, it was because she was trying to make the world a better place. She had taken herself to Gaza, knowing it was dangerous and uncomfortable and scary, in order to try and change things.

My original motives were less clear and altruistic to be perfectly honest. Yes I wanted to make a difference, but I also wanted to experience a different culture and travel some more. I was curious and interested. And I hoped to also help some people. But it was a bit of an adventure as well.

And then the Israeli state apparatus killed Rachel in front of me. And the next day, in partnership with the USA government, tried to physically claim to her body whilst she was in the Rafah morgue.

I was with some other internationals in an internet cafe desperately emailing and reporting on what had happened. The media storm was in full swing. And I was informed that the Israeli army had given an ultimatum that either Rachel’s body was handed over to them, or that there would be a military operation (with scores of Palestinians inevitably killed in the process) in order to recover it.

And that’s when I felt it. No, no the people who’d killed her were not going to take her body. Not without getting through me first. And that was not going to be an easy thing for them to do.

I found this strength solidifying in me. Something I had felt before on occasion but never to this extent. Resolve. Like an iron rod running from the crown of my head, down through my spine and grounding me. I had power. Power to say No and for that to mean something. For me to be able to prevent something happening. That I was strong and capable enough to stand up to both the Israeli and USA states.

We all agreed it was wrong. A violation that the Israeli army should take the body of the person they had killed. I felt a surety that Rachel would not want this, and I knew I wouldn’t had it been the other way around. I also knew that we didn’t want anyone else to be killed, but I felt absurdly confident that it wouldn’t come to that, and I was right!

I don’t want to just now write again about the practical details of what happened, and the twists and turns, the wranglings, the intense cunning we needed, the taking chances and resourcefulness but Will, Greg and I somehow did it, and successfully arranged for Rachel’s body to not be taken by the Israeli soldiers, but to travel safely to Tel Aviv in a civil ambulance with one of us (Will) with her all the way. It was a few hours of focus and belief and determination and creativity that I just don’t think I would have been capable of before.

A crisis like that is a fire hotter than anything I would wish on anybody else, but within it swirling, confused, contradictory parts of me forged into purposeful solidity. Within it I changed at an essential level. The trauma of it all has taken years to get over, and like anything with a half-life, will never totally leave me. But that profound purpose and power and resolve will not only never leave me, but has only grown stronger over the years.

Those people and systems that poison and degrade precious life and beauty and environment? Each new wound that you inflict has an unpredictable, inverse effect that will lead to your deposition. Within each of us that witness and experience the depths that you will sink to, purpose and focus develops and resonates. And even still now, over a decade since she was killed, I will still meet new people who will find out that I was with Rachel Corrie and tell me how they were shocked and angered by her killing and took up or deepened their struggles for a better world because of it.

So, this then was the narcissistic version of Rachel’s death. And sheepish as I feel in posting it, this is my personal blog. And this was the effect that 16th March 2003 had on me. It was a fulcrum. You killed Rachel, and that created in me a strength and lifemeaning and clarity that is part of a growing global, timeless movement for a decent world.

Peace, Justice and Freedom Seder

March 29, 2012 Leave a comment

This year I’m hosting another love, justice and freedom seder* on Saturday, 7th April 2012 (2nd night). We’ll be roughly using http://saltyfemme.wordpress.com/haggadah-zine/ but with a more traditional “telling” of the Exodus story and various other bits will also be more orthodox. Read more…

Categories: judaism, peace, Pesach, spirituality

Give me back my Star of David!

February 27, 2012 3 comments

On pages relating to justice for Palestine I see artwork using the star of david in creative ways to express how the state of Israel is oppressing Palestinians. And of course the Israeli state, with decades of unjust, murderous policies has the star of david as the main symbol on it’s flag.

Being Jewish is important to me spiritually. The star of david is one of our religious symbols, and though personally I prefer others, such as l’chaim (“life”) and the menorah, I still associate the star with my spiritual and ethnic practice.

But the state is Israel has inextricably bound that same symbol into political associations with Zionism. And so naturally the antizionist movement is cleverly and creatively subverting it.

I can’t speak for other Jews who reject Zionism as a part of their religious identity, but for me I find it horrible. I squarely lay the blame on the side of the aggressor – it is the Israeli state and its supporters who first shackled the star of david to the Israeli flag. It was and is they who are most vehement that to be Jewish one must also ascribe to the political ideology of zionism. The other side, who coopts the star in political artwork critiquing zionism is responding to the association laid down by the Israeli state.

But while all this is being played out, I just feel like screaming out (and hence this post!) “LEAVE MY RELIGIOUS SYMBOLS ALONE!” I am here, an antizionist Jew, and I am far from being an annomoly. That symbol is as much mine as every other Jew’s. It has spiritual meaning. My spirituality is not tied to a particular politics but is about my relationship with the All. The star of david is a symbol if that, and binding it to a man-made state, and to the political realm, is a theft and assault of my birthright as a Jew.

On being Jewish and antizionist

November 21, 2011 6 comments

This is just a few thoughts and no doubt I’ll write more on this.

That I’m Jewish is meaningful to me. My skeptical friends don’t understand it, and think it at odds with my other beliefs, and that I can’t explain it in words doesn’t really help much! All I can say is that I experience strong, unexpected feelings in connection with Judaica, such as rituals, places and language. For example I feel a strong sense of grounding, peace and energy each week when I light candles just before sunset on Friday evenings to bring in the sabbath. Twice in my life I have gone to the Western Wall in Jerusalem, and both times was overpowered by emotion. Read more…

Jerusalem – an ideal of equality, freedom, peace and justice

April 26, 2011 Leave a comment

In my version* of hippy Orthodox Judaism, Jerusalem (and Israel, and Zion) symbolises a place to aspire to of peace, freedom and love.  This idea of Jerusalem as standing for an Anarchist utopia came after discussion with other radical Orthodox Jews, including a couple who have studied Judaism deeply, and one who is fluent in Hebrew, including etymologically.  From what they have said it seems that this was part of a traditional view of Jerusalem – although it would traditionally have had a creator/external G-d more centrally, and simultaneously referred to the physical place as well.  This is common in Judaism, with non obvious symbolic meanings ascribed to many (most?!) words that the direct translation into English fails to carry over.  (Mitzrayim, meaning both “Egypt” and “that which confines us” is another one of particular relevance during passover)

Read more…