Category Archives: Activism

A quick note on NUS conference and self-care

selfcare

If you’re at NUS conference over the next few days, or know anyone who is there, please remember this: conference is really intense: it drains you emotionally and physically, you’re bombarded by campaign supporters, political parties, factions, fringe meetings from the moment you arrive. Conference floor is exhausting, as well as exhilarating. Debates, whilst largely stimulating and insightful, can often descend into petty name-calling and be (sometimes intentionally) racist, homo/bi/transphobic, classist, sexist and ableist. People underestimate the impact those kind of things have on others, and whilst folks are always eager to hop up to the megaphone and call others out on their bullshit, the damage has been done – to both conference hacks and conference newbies.

I’m only saying this to make a point: when you’re at conference, practise self-care.

My experiences at NUS conferences were some of the best moments of my time as a student officer, but they wouldn’t have been if I hadn’t practiced self care, which is a difficult thing to do. If you need to take ten minutes off conference floor, if you say that you need to go home rather than attending an election party then DO IT and do not feel guilty! It is far more important for you to look after your own health and mental well-being for a few minutes, rather than sacrificing them for the whole of conference. Respect everyone’s access needs, support each other, stay hydrated, eat, SLEEP (I’m looking at you Vicki Baars and Colum McGuire!), take time out if you need. Your impact on conference will be all the better for it.

Finally, it’s often really easy to direct your anger at the people at the podium, or on the stage, or behind the scenes at NUS, or at each other. Just remember that there is a difference between holding someone to account and holding someone hostage for something that they did or didn’t do. I have disagreed with a lot of people at conference – but treating them like crap isn’t a productive way to unite a movement and I really hope folks at conference remember that every delegate – whether an NUS officer, sabb or student – is human. If you criticise someone, be productive about it. Ask yourself, “How can we move forward from this? How can I challenge this appropriately in a way that will make a difference? How can I support this movement?”. I’ve been guilty in the past of getting sucked into rhetoric about factions (I think everyone remotely involved in NUS has!) but it’s more valuable, in some cases, to build bridges where there is common ground to be shared. No one agrees on everything, but sometimes you will agree on something, and that’s valuable. Don’t forget that.

Although I’m no longer in the student movement (I’m still a student, but a full-time teacher!) I am invested in the power that conference has, because I’ve seen how activists change and shape each other over the course of a few days. That’s pretty powerful. Take care of each other and that power will be used to shape the future of education.

(cross-posted on my facebook account)

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And now the end is here…Reflections on my time as a student officer

I can’t remember when I started caring about students – that is to say, students as students. In my first year at Warwick, most of my time was spent with Warwick Lacrosse and RAG, and enjoying my degree. In the blink of an eye, it was second year and I found myself on the other side of the world in California for my year abroad. Upon my return to Warwick I was elected to the Warwick Pride exec, went to my first NUS LGBT conference and threw myself into my work at the Arts Centre and my degree. I had a great three years, and my time abroad, during the Prop 8 saga, definitely politicised me in terms of LGBT issues. But still, that was my activist base, not a Student Union.

I guess things changed when I remained at Warwick to do my MA. I was a freshers’ supervisor, which understandably involved spending a fair amount of time with SU staff, and promoting the SU. I think this was when things started to shift towards my Union involvement. I was also on Union council this year, as LGBTUA+ officer in the Union. And then of course, the tuition fee rise was proposed and the HE world exploded with anger. If I had to pinpoint one thing that got me into student politics and representation, that was probably it, but it’s not as simple as that.

It’s my last day in office today. A couple of weeks ago I was looking through photos of freshers, remembering the exhaustion and sheer joy of the sabb team greeting the new intake of students last October. A very small part of me wishes I could go back and do it again. Do it better, do it differently (some of it). A much larger part of me wouldn’t change a thing. And the rest of me is tired, and can’t wait to get to the pub (well, sports ball for tonight!)

I’ve said it before, many times, and I’ll say it again: this job is the best job in the world. I know there’s no concrete way of truly knowing that. I’m starting my teacher training on Monday, the job I’ve wanted to do since I was 9 years old and that I hope to spend the rest of my life doing. But I still say this: being a sabbatical officer is the best job in the world. Watching students develop themselves, contribute to education and their community and society – and knowing that you’ve been a part of that, is absolutely mindblowing. The pace at which students are moving and shaking is phenomenal – sometimes I sit back and wonder how the hell do they do it? It’s a pleasure to support students like that and see them leave at the end of three, four or five years a totally different human than when they first arrived on campus.

Of course, it’s not all like that. I’ve cried my eyes out, I’ve been sent spiteful and anonymous emails telling me that I’m not fit to do my job, witnessed my fellow officers in other unions be bombarded by smear campaigns and sexism. As a team, we’ve dealt with the horror of Bacardigate, students generally complaining/moaning about what we do, and we’ve spent quite a lot of time simply sitting together asking what the hell is going to happen to the Higher Education sector, which we all care about so much. We’ve put up with people saying that our jobs aren’t “proper jobs”. To all those people I say: come and spend a week in the office doing what we do. I doubt you’d last a day with that attitude. What we do is vitally important, and very difficult, and putting up with people’s idiocy and spitefulness is totally worth it, so you can bite me.

I’m so lucky. I’ve had a job that I love, wholeheartedly and irrationally. It may have been for less than a year, but how many people can say that they look forward to coming into work every single morning? How many people get to work with some of the most passionate students, the most dedicated activists and officers, the most patient and capable staff, and see their combined efforts improving the lives of people day by day? How many people get to be part of a movement? I’m one of the lucky ones. This job has made me determined that I will always work for improvement and change, that I will always do what I love and trust my gut instinct, that I will stand up for what I believe in. It has given me so much more than I ever thought it would.

I’m not going to talk about what I’m proudest of, or what I wished I’d done better. The long and short of it is, I’m damn proud of everything I’ve done this year – and of course I could always be better. But people come and go, things change –that’s the nature of the student movement. If I helped one student this year, that’s enough – and I know I’ve helped many more. At grad ball last night, I was able to look around the room and think to myself, the SU has made an impact on your University life. Whether you know it or not, it has. That’s enough. Knowing we’ve helped is enough.

I don’t have time to thank everyone I need to. Over the next few weeks and months I’ll probably send cards and emails to the people I need to. I like to think I’ve thanked everyone as the year has gone by, that I’ve let them know how much they have done. But just in case I’m going to list a few people here – this list is not exhaustive!

Firstly, Warwick Pride. My favourite society on campus who have gone from strength to strength over the last few years, who remain my safe haven to which I can always return and feel loved and accepted. I am incredibly proud of you and owe you more than I can put into words. Who would have thought that when I arrived at Uni, barely out in 2007, that I would end up a passionate and proud LGBT activist? Couldn’t have done it without you. Thank you. (ps. looking forward to Bows tomorrow night!)

Secondly, the Union staff. The Senior Management team have supported me so much this year and been very patient with me, and work so hard for students, it has been a real pleasure to work alongside you. And to the Advice Centre Staff – Meena, Sue, Ken, for doing exceptional work for students that is rarely easy – you are all diamonds. David, I would not have got through this year without you and I am going to miss you and our daily chats so very much. The SU owes you a huge debt. And to JC, our wonderful CEO – I honestly don’t know how you do what you do but we owe you big time. Thanks for being a brilliant mentor this year and for putting up with all my moaning! And EVERYONE else who works for the Union in any way – you’re all wonderful, thank you for everything you do.

Thirdly, the Student Support Team at the University who do an incredibly difficult job under huge amounts of pressure and have been a great support to me this year. I could thank lots of people at the University individually but this team deserves special mention.

Fourthly, everyone I’ve met during my time in the National Student Movement – that’s a LOT of people! Regardless of whether or not we agree politically, the movement is strong because of the passion and dedication of the people involved. NUS is vitally important despite its flaws and the team for next year has a real opportunity to set the agenda for the future of HE and FE. Don’t let us down!

Particular thanks to the NUS LGBT campaign, my political stomping ground, especially to the committee of 2011-12, working with you gave me some of my best times in the student movement, and marching with you is a privilege. You’re the best part of NUS and don’t you forget it! J And to my #tresamaze and #phenom welfare counterparts at other Unions around the country – thanks for all the support and advice and welfare bants. You’re all excellent. I won’t miss jiscmail even a tiny little bit.

Finally, I want to thank the rest of the sabb team. It hasn’t been an easy year and we haven’t always got on, but the work we’ve done, the relationships we’ve built and the fun we’ve had outweigh the bad times by a heck of a lot. I genuinely think you are all amazing and I’m so glad I got to work with you this year – can’t even begin to explain how much I will miss our general banter (also known as our weekly meeting) or our pub times. I don’t think a lot of students appreciate exactly how much you do for them but you do it anyway, and that’s pretty inspiring. I’m sorry I won’t be around for handover (gutted that I’m going to miss the “scenario session” – next year’s team are in for a real treat!) but I know you’ll do an excellent job of preparing the incoming sabbs for the challenges ahead. Sports ball tonight is going to be cracking, and I’ll be on the piazza at midnight for the key ceremony on July 31st and then I’ll get emotional about you all individually. Bring popcorn and Kleenex.

On that note, I’m going to force myself to stop. I’ll say thank you again to every single person who has made this year the best first job that I could have ever hoped for, and leave you with one of my favourite quotes from Margaret Mead which has kept me going, and will keep me going as I enter the world of Teach First on Monday:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has”

First posted on my work blog, at http://www.warwicksu.com/blogs/blog/izzyjohn/2012/06/22/And-now-the-end-is-hereMy-last-day-in-the-office/

Another splendid lesson in “how to do liberation wrong”, courtesy of Julie Bindel

I was extremely dismayed, but not surprised, to read yet another bigoted and vitriolic article from Julie Bindel. Apparently dismissing and demeaning trans* folks is not enough for her, she feels the need to belittle and devalue the experiences – indeed the very existences – of bisexual women.

Bindel claims that lesbian politics and feminism are one and the same – and whilst lesbians are present throughout feminist history, and vice versa, it is both inaccurate and insulting to exclude bisexual and heterosexual women, as well as women who do not define their sexuality and/or gender from the feminist movement.

I think it’s completely accurate to blame the patriarchy for the fact that bisexuality, particularly in women, is seen as a phase, or a tantalising experiment to please a male partner. What Bindel does, however, is blame bisexual people – and those who engage in “bisexual behaviour” for the existence of this perception. Perhaps she needs to dust off her “Feminism 101” manual: women who consent to have sex with another consenting adult, of any gender or sexuality have every right to do so, and no one should tell them otherwise.

Bindel writes, “Lesbians having heterosexual sex are seen as transgressive, when in fact they are simply reverting to a traditional way of being a woman. For a straight woman, having a girlfriend on the side is almost like having the latest Prada handbag”. These statements (which are, incidentally, not backed up by anything remotely resembling fact) are incredibly reductive. A traditional way of being a woman? If Bindel is referring to the existence of women prior to the advent of sexual liberation, I think she’s missing the point. Before women had any grasp on what sexual liberation could or should look like, they had very little choice as to how, when and why they had sex of any kind. Now, if a lesbian chooses to have heterosexual sex, that’s her own damn business as far as I’m concerned. It doesn’t surprise me in the least that Bindel, in her typically transphobic style, reduces sexual acts to gendered performance, completely discounting trans* bodies and behaviours.

As for this idea that straight women reduce their girlfriends to trendy accessories, generalising isn’t going to help anyone here – Bindel not only discounts the sexual autonomy and choices of “straight” women, she completely denies their right to shift their sexuality and behaviour and instead lumps all straight women together as lying, shallow hussies. It’s exceptionally lazy journalism as well as being wildly unfair.

It is a real shame that Bindel is such a relentless bigot – not only because she has a significant platform in the feminist and LGBT media, but because in this article specifically (I’m not going to tackle her entire journalistic canon) she almost manages to make some sensible points. For instance, when she writes, “I personally feel that straight women are missing out on the best sex on the planet, but that is their choice”, I almost want to applaud. “Yes Julie!” I want to cry out. Yes, because she is stating her personal opinion without denying women the right to choose what kind of sex they want to have.

It’s a shame that the elation I feel when I read that sentence is so utterly crushed by her crass assumption that bisexual women who sleep with men are halting feminist progress and undermining sexual politics. I’ll say it again: sexual politics connotes the choice about who we sleep with – who, when and why. It is not in any way undermined by the genitalia or gender identity of the person (or people) who are lucky enough to have their world rocked by an awesome person (or people). However, because Bindel seems completely unable to grasp this, I would suggest that for the foreseeable future, you take the advice of my friend Lauren: “If lesbian women have an ounce of sexual politics, they will stop sleeping with Julie Bindel”. Couldn’t agree more.

At the beginning of her “article” Bindel asks, “what makes some of us uncomfortable with bisexual women?” I can answer that for you Julie: bigotry. Some people (including me) are bisexual. Get over it.

In between the lines, women are writing the revolution

Perspective’s a funny thing

Things that have made me sad over the last few days:

1) Realising that the boggle app for iphone doesn’t accept “queer” as a word. Even technology is homophobic sometimes, dontchaknow.

2) Remembering that although Brenda Namigadde has been granted temporary asylum, she is, as far as I know, still in Yarslwood detention centre. Prisons come in all shapes and sizes. So do closets.

3) Filling out an internship application for the Royal Shakespeare Company and discovering that their “Equal Oppurtunities” form takes disability, gender and ethnicity into account, but not sexuality. Oh wait, that’s because we have full equality and are liberated and discrimination against gays doesn’t happen any more. Not according to the Daily Fail at least.

4) On a similar note, being one of only three girls out of 25 candidates in the upcoming student union elections. Last year, there were more female and black candidates than ever before, and yet the electorate still managed to get seven white men into office. Sigh.

Things that don’t make me sad

1) Being kissed.

2) Being kissed by you.

3) Kissing you.

4) This. 

Closets are for fabulous shoes, not people.

Kudos to my very talented friend Cal for designing this gorgeous image. Happy LGBT History Month, celebrate and honour well 🙂

Not in our generation

I think when a lot of folks think about the Holocaust, they envision concentration camps and Anne Frank’s attic and yellow stars. The most horrific genocide of the first half of the 20th century, packaged into text books and documentaries. Yes, I’m cynical about remembrance. So sue me. On Remembrance Day in November during the two minute silence, I’m constantly frustrated. I wonder why we are staying silent when we should be shouting and crying. Of course I understand the importance of respect. But all too often people walk away after candlelit vigils and silences and forget, too easily, why we were there in the first place.

Here’s the thing about the Holocaust: it’s not over. It was never a contained event. It’s an ideology that permeates the minds of far-right and fascist groups and political organisations in a manner as slow and deadly as gas. It’s happening now, in the form of rampant Islamaphobia, ethnic cleansing, corrective rape, gay bashing, cartoon strips, what our newspapers don’t or won’t report. The English Defence League, the devastation in Darfur. The Holocaust isn’t over.

I wanted to write this so I won’t forget, so that I won’t make the mistake of so many and push the Holocaust into an abstracted form of history, something past, something irrelevant, something solved. It’s days like today which puts fire into the stomachs of liberation campaigners, because our unity fights against the division which genocide seeks to effect. Our differences as queers, women, ethnic folk, religious folk, people with disabilities and people of political minds are glorious and messy and make the world better. Our differences don’t divide, they unite. We work against the holocaust of the everyday. We say, this will not happen again.

Today I will not just be thinking of the millions of Jews who lost their lives in the Holocaust of 1939-1945. I’ll be thinking also of the millions of gay people forced to wear the pink triangle, the Poles, and everyone else who died under Hitler’s regime. I’ll be thinking of the millions of displaced and traumatised people in Cambodia, Iraq, the Sudan, Darfur. I’ll be thinking of how to best remember these people, and how best to honour them. I think the best way is to ensure that we’ll never again have to remember or honour these kind of victims. Not in our generation. Or the next, or ever.

This video says it, really. I was proud to be part of it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Or1VTqVrrXY