Here are the slides from my presentation at the National Permaculture Diploma Gathering 2014.
Starting the second plenary was Jennifer Clapp from the University of Waterloo, Canada talking about the ‘Financialization, Distance and Global Food Politics’ (conference paper # 5).
Unfortunately I missed a lot of Jennifer’s session but I did hear her describe the concept of extraction – in relationship on the microscale of food & nourishment for our own bodies, and the macroscale of extraction in terms of capitalism.
She described how the financialisation of food allowed greater distancing between production and consumption, allowing actors to externalise the costs involved, and obscuring linkages between elements. She also said how the system hides responsibility and also blurs narratives e.g. The industrial agricultural food system as saviour (we can feed the world with our GM etc) rather than cause of injustice.
Marc Edelman from Hunter College/City University of New York (CUNY), USA then talked about ‘Food sovereignty: Forgotten genealogies and future regulatory challenges’ (conference paper # 72). He said how ‘Food Sovereignty’ as a phrase was actually used by the Mexican Government for a program in the 1980s, with similar concepts being used over the last three decades also.
He also made a key point in relation to the term ‘sovereignty’. Somebody needs to administer sovereignty – who? Nation? State? Region? “The people”? Which I liked, as this is something problematic I am continuously exploring as an anarchist.
Jan Douwe van der Ploeg from Wageningen University, The Netherlands then spoke about ‘Peasant-driven agricultural growth and food sovereignty’ (Conference paper # 8). I really liked his talk because he was very succinct and made seven key points. These were that:
- We have Food Empires which are governed and controlled by networks, the elite and other power holders. These food empires have the ability to de-active areas of food production. They induce precarity in consumption and production. They impose development models (think structural adjustment) and affect what and how much we can consume, and who can consume it.
- Food Empires induce precariousness and disassemble resource bases.
- Bypassing markets controlled by food empires are nested markets and agroecology. Resistance is everywhere and is interlinked.
- He said that food production needs to be and can be productive, resilient, dynamic and sustainable, it should be part of society.
- The search for and construction of food sovereignty is a long-term process.
- We need to build a Chayanov everywhere
- Our movement is stronger than we think. We are weakening food empires and supporting repeasantisation.
Following Jan was Michael Windfuhr of the German Institute for Human Rights, Berlin, discussing his paper ’Food Sovereignty and Human Rights. What type of a relation is possible?’
Michael pointed out, what I feel is an elephant in the room, that there is a conflict for us when asking for something sovereign, which often means the state, when it is complicit in so much harm, and in his framework, human rights abuses. He said food sovereignty therefore is about a search a good governance.
He talked about all the potential conflicts at play and our need to identify them, for example conflicts over land ownership. He also said how the right to food can be misused, such as with the foodbank model.
Finally, Ludwig Rumetshofer spoke from the European Coordination Via Campesina (ECVC). Ludwig was a breath of fresh air, a delight of authenticity listening to someone who spends their time on the streets and with the soil.
Ludwig said that there are some key questions facing the European Via Campesina movement which are:
- How to access land?
- What will be the production model (e.g. Agroecology)?
- Under which social conditions is food produced (e.g. Without worker exploitation)?
- What political framework do we need?
Ludwig made us laugh when he said his comrade had been writing an article about “How to become a farmer without marrying one”. Even though I’m not married, the only way we’ve accessed land in our family is through my Mum meeting my step dad so I couldn’t chuckle at its relevancy!
Ludwig’s key point however is that more than anything, we need a radical shift. He also emphasised the necessity of having a plurality of struggles, and this is a big strength of our movement.
There was then a discussion and a few further interesting points were raised. One was about the difference between industrial agriculture and peasantry. The main objective of Industrial Agriculture being capital accumulation and the main objective of Peasant Agriculture objective being feeding people.
Speaking first was Elizabeth Mpofu, General Coordinator, La Via Campesina who said just because we don’t have a high formal education doesn’t mean we can’t think for ourselves or organise a global movement. Hell yeah. Scholars can critically analyse and explore what our movements are doing, but we ultimately, as organisers and growers, are creating that movement.
Elizabeth said also that we are not just resisting, but trying to build something new with our ideas & our actions. This resist and create feeling is what I adore about the food sovereignty movement. She also said “Without agroecology we cannot build food sovereignty”, which again strengthened my desire to continue exploring agroecology as the focus of my MSc with Gaia University (not an academic institution – the most radical model of higher education in the world, something re-emphasised to me yesterday more than ever).
Susan George, Chairperson of the Transnational Institute, then spoke of the debt and structural adjustment model of corporate globalisation which triggered the movement two decades ago. She narrowed the learning down to two points:
- If you don’t have land or the means of access to land to produce food & if you don’t have money to buy it you’re going to go hungry
- There is no level of human suffering that will allow policy to change. This only happens when you change the balance of power.
This ‘no level of human suffering’ resonated with me a lot, its like with the prison system, reformists could make points over and over to governments about bad conditions or the harmed caused, but they will never change or reform anything in power unless they are forced to, unless there is energy applied to forcing that change.
Olivier de Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, then spoke about ‘Second-generation food sovereignty and democracy’. He made six key points. He said the interests of peasants are not in the awareness of consumers, but this is changing, and that the places of where battle is taking place is also changing, giving the examples of Seattle (and the summit focused resistance of the 1990s/2000s) to things like food policy councils now which could be quite geographically focused.
He said food sovereignty is developing increasingly in relation to how we are and how we will achieve it. He said about our role to block ‘inert’ food systems (e.g. Industrial agricultural models). He talked briefly about ‘food democracy’ and described how food sovereignty has allowed us to build social links, which is important as our society creates a culture where we are less and less socialised and more and more individualised. He also commented on how food initiatives prioritise resilience over efficiency, with reduced dependency on inputs and greater diversity. Finally, he remarked about the strong links to agroecology and how food sovereignty and agroecology are ‘deeply aligned’, in that agroecology transforms the role of farmers, is empowering and involves horizontal transfers of knowledge.
Next up was Teodor Shanin, President of the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences. Finally a cheer for some good old fashioned class analysis, which is still as ever relevant today. Interestingly, he talked about the family farm as unit of production, something we have been critiquing with Reclaim the Fields, to challenge the reproduction of inequalities through the family model.
It was refreshing to hear some actual critique of the state and centring this movement in social struggle, when Teodor asked “What are you actually facing in terms of enemies?”. He said we need to learn from history about those that have taken on financial capitalism and the state.
Tania Li from the University of Toronto, the talked about her paper ‘No Food Sovereignty Here’, which looked at sites where the food sovereignty principles cohere and where they don’t. He case study was about Indigenous highlanders in Indonesia when in the 1990s they switched from producing their own food to mono-cropping coco. She described how crops left them (the highlanders) feeling very vulnerable e.g. Weather, pests & diseases, catastrophic doubts and that by engaging in markets they felt safer.
She also highlighted an important point – that we can’t assume that traditional systems can withstand changes, especially in relation to climate change, which is why continuous agroecological research is necessary.
Yesterday I attended the event ‘Food Sovereignty, a critical dialogue at the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS), The Hague, The Netherlands.
The day was a powerhouse of mainly academics and a few organisers, who had come together to have a dialogue about food sovereignty. Much of which was based on the submission of academic papers in the summer at the first event that took place at Yale University in September 2013.
I arrived exhausted, from less sleep than I had imagined on my coach journey, with a mixture of excitement and apprehension. There were over 360 participants from all over the world, it felt very diverse in terms of race and gender however its class mixture with so many academics maybe left a question mark hanging for me. There was definitely a huge amount of power and privilege in the room, something, that thankfully a number of speakers commented on.
The day began with all of us in a large room, chairs facing forward to screens and speakers and for hours we were subjected to speaker after speaker followed by ‘discussion’. I say discussion like this, because for me at least, it felt like discussion was limited to those not intimidated to talk to so many people in a room like this, the majority of which are critically intelligent and with phds! As usual the majority of commenters were middle class white men who can’t help themselves but share what they have to say.
Following this morning was a delicious lunch and then further panel sessions, which thankfully were in smaller breakout spaces. These speakers weren’t grouped thematically so it was difficult to have a ‘critical dialogue’ when there was such subject range. However it was definitely a less intimidating space, yet despite this, I still did not participate for feeling a little excluded, for having terminology and analysis filing over my head, despite knowing my intelligence and the fact that I am living and working these concepts every day.
It felt like all of the information and how it flowed on the day was all pitched to one form of learning style, to those with the ability to sit like passive consumers and consume information, chew it about a bit, and regurgitate it orally again with speed and grace. I found one hand out with pictures on and I nearly cried in relief!
While working with 360 people could be a challenge, I feel with strong facilitation and design there could have been more actual dialogue. There was such a huge wealth of experience and knowledge in the room and yet we only accessed a tiny amount of it. Even if in the morning people could put up their hands if they were engaged in certain struggles so we would know who to look out for and talk to. I kind of felt like that person that most people didn’t want to talk to, as if they were chasing the big names, who were the only ones with something important to say.
Alas, I knew from the advertising that I would be entering the murky world of academia. I’ve been to a lot of events where I have felt isolated or stigmatised by class or gender, however the hierarchy of the university world is something I have never interacted with. The idea of specialism fascinates me. How can we bring something so diverse, with so many factors, and reduce it to something so narrow? How can we define peasant and why do we even want to? Thankfully John Hilary from War on Want said at the end “If there is a problem for social scientists understanding the food sovereignty principles, the problem lies with social scientists!”
This gave me some comfort and a sigh of relief, that yes, not all of us accept we need to take reductionist approaches to the world and these issues.
This blog post probably sounds very negative and it does not mean to be, I am just critically processing my thoughts and feelings around the day and what it meant for me as one participant amongst many. As Leo de Haan, who started the day said to be critical is not to criticise, but to remark, create dialogue and give feedback that is hopefully constructive. My call out therefore to the organisers of the colloquium is to design events with more opportunities for participation, in smaller groups, so everyone can be heard, and to map the areas of interest amongst everyone so we can gravitate to allies and build relationships.
Thankfully, there were a few pieces of gold amongst the sessions that really resonated and stirred my soul, which I will explore in the next few blog posts.
On Thursday 5th December 2013, I made my way to London to attend the ‘Land & Community: Creating a 21st Century Commons’ event organised by Shared Assets, New Start and Co-operatives UK.
I was hoping I could get some inspiration and resources to include in the Access to Land Handbook, I am currently writing for Somerset Community Food.
On arrival I was surprised by the corporate-feeling venue and felt a little out of place in my trainers and hoops. The morning started by us mapping the room, thankfully I wasn’t alone and had a friend from Reclaim the Fields present in the midsts of councillors, ex-mayors, academics and others. We then heard from the speakers.
Julian Dobson, founder of Urban Pollinators started by highlighting what we were all thinking – there is no mutually exclusive definition of commons, and its plurality is its strength. He talked about our history and that land had been seized by force, then given by sufference to people to use. I wasn’t expecting some explicit observations like these so was refreshingly pleased. He also introduced the concept of stewardship, and that we can have the political concepts of commons but actually its how we use buildings, land and spaces that matters. It reminds me of Derrick Jensen (yes, the anti-civ writer) saying that gains for our landbases are the main barometers of success. Are they getting healthier?
Mark Walton then introduced the work he had been doing & the research undertaken regarding successful collaboration. He said he was looking for the edge/alternatives between the state or the market, which I liked.
Gavin Saunders, from Neroche Woodlanders then shared his groups story of accessing land from the forestry commission, and I really like how this example that began as a top-down, minimum input woodland, became a bottom up example of creative, community land use.
Kate Swade then looked at ‘Bridging the Gap’, with its multiple meanings. For example how to bridge the gap between small groups of friends potentially buying and sharing land, to committed social enterprises or organisations that take on land management and its community use. She also talked about scale and supply and demand.
There was then time for questions followed by a few more mini slots of people talking about their work and passions.
After lunch Pat Conaty then talked about the cooperative movement, cooperative land trusts and land reform in Scotland. He also introduced a tool called the ‘Commonwealth wheel’, which seemed like a useful model for designing groups and enterprises to manage land.
After lunch there was a facilitated session titled, “What needs to change in order to enable greater community management of environmental assets?”
And for me, the terminology says everything! In the groups I was in we talked about building relationships with landowners, but never about re-distributing land. I wonder why we have such a poverty of vision in this country right now? How did we become so controlled and liberal?
However despite my desire for more radical change, I can see how there are some gem-like examples out there of community groups getting on with it, organising to access land, and creating new commons in the midsts of the systems we have today. The more practice we have in collectively, sustainably managing the land the better and the more resilient we will be for the turbulent times ahead.
On Wednesday 27th November 2013, I participated in an event organised by the Community Land Advisory Service and the Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens aimed at community groups interested in purchasing land to provide community gardens or woodlands or other forms of community land use.
I have found the resources and guidance of CLAS absolutely top class over the last year in supporting projects in Somerset. The day started with introductions, and it was clear there was a room of people who had been actively taking action already in these areas in their own communities.
Jade Bashford from CLAS started by splitting people into groups to explore the benefits and barriers of buying land. You can see some notes from that section here.
Martin Large from Stroud Woods shared his group’s story of quickly acting to buy some local woods that came available, five days before an auction, and how these woods are now home to not only biodiversity but also community groups and a diversity of interaction from local people, in an open-access way.
Sarah Spencer then shared the story of her Transition Group’s efforts in buying Whistlewood Common, quite a different example to many due to the support from the National Forest Company. Once again, the land will be managed in a more diverse, ecologically sound way.
Both examples pushed me to think about power and privilege, as both examples came from fairly affluent communities, where raising £500 from someone isn’t too much risk to someone’s wellbeing. I’m looking forward to researching examples from areas where this isn’t the case. There was also a lot of ability in the room – people with prior experience in managing finance, companies, or complex projects. How do we support organisers to gain these skills in non-corporate ways so we can accelerate sustainable land use and not perpetuate privilege?
Rebecca Marshall from the Community Land Advisory Service then gave a whistlestop introduction to the process of buying and and the responsibilities of a landowner.
Simon Barkin from the Community Shares Unit then introduced community shares, as one model of collective ownership. Its interesting that its supported by the home office and made me think about the power relationships at play and who benefits from community economics.
After lunch, there was then a choice of workshops. I attended the ‘Surgery’ with Rebecca Marshall, and it soon become an impressive skill share supporting an inspiring group in Peterborough in their action around sustaining their community garden and the land where its based, in the face of local property development and council cuts.
I then listened to Peter Hughes from Charity Bank talk about loans as an option for social enterprises and organisations. It made me think more about accessing credit but also made me know how I desire a ‘small and slow’ solutions approach starting small & growing steadily with Feed Avalon.
Overall it was a really interesting day. Again, the big white elephant in the room was land rights and land ownership. We can buy all the land we want as community groups but fundamentally when 70% of land is owned by 1% of the population, what is really necessary is real social change. That’s before you start with even thinking if land can be owned at all! Alas, it was an inspiring day and I learnt some interesting things that could support transitional steps to re-collectively ‘owning’ and more importantly, stewarding land.
My second output in my MSc Political Agroecology with Gaia University is now live.
The aim of this output was to explore my own radical edges and optimise how I organise with others for social change. A large thematic area is prison abolition, as well as healing and resilience to repression on a personal and community-movement level.
You can read it all here: http://portfolios.gaiauniversity.org/view/view.php?id=3969
Gender, sexuality and design
This article is a conversation between queer permaculture practitioners and community organisers, Nicole Vosper and Annie-Rose London, communicating across continents about gender, sexuality and design.
Nicole: One of the key principles of permaculture is ‘Use & Value Diversity’, in terms of how we design our communities this may also apply to gender & sexuality. How do you think people can design for diversity?
Annie-Rose: In order to design for diversity, we first need to acknowledge one fundamental assumption – that we’re not already diverse. I think people often view social diversity as a passive thing that will just spontaneously happen if we’re not actively homophobic. We live in a power- and access-monoculture. So it ain’t that simple. When we look at fields that are overcome by an invasive grass, it’s clear that we can’t just set up a homestead and wait for biodiversity to kick in. The land is out of balance; it will take active nudging to welcome biodiversity. And you can’t fake it either – simply sowing a few seeds won’t result in a self-sufficient ecosystem. The conditions themselves need to be welcoming, not forceful; space must be made for life, not aggressively prodded into life with chemical fertilizers.
Increasing diversity in our human communities doesn’t mean simply opening our doors and shouting loudly “Hey! We want diversity! Come on in!” We need to acknowledge that we’re coming from an extremely unhealthy society, one in which things are coming from a base-line of non-balance. I’ve been in a lot of places that think they’ve accomplished their work of increasing human diversity because they said so in their mission statement. If you want participation from anyone besides those already most empowered by society, i.e. heterosexual cis-gendered white males, here are the tools I believe are most important:
Decide why. Be honest. It’s important that you aren’t seeking diversity to be politically correct, to look good, or to make yourself feel better. Figure out why you, you personally, want to make this effort.
Make friends. We can deconstruct participation and diversity and outreach in many ways, but at the end of the day, people want to be with friends, they want to feel loved. Don’t plot all the time; actually make friends with people. And not just to manipulate them into joining your project, but to learn from each other, to have fun, to, you know, make a friend. This isn’t magic.
Listen. The stance of being an ally must be one of listening. We must engage with people of all kinds who are different from us and actively listen to their goals, their needs, and their inspirations. We can’t tell queers how they should want to participate. I cannot stress enough how important it is to have a stance of listening rather than one of telling. Remember that analogy to biodiversity (create nurturing environments that are conducive to growth rather than forcing growth)!
Lay aside your ego. This is an inevitable challenge that goes hand in hand with listening, especially when we get to the doing part. Listening to people who have different experiences of life and of oppression means that you will have to accept that someone else’s priorities are different from your own. In order to be an ally you may have to revise your own priorities. You will have to make the radical mental leap that other people’s lives are actually different from yours. For example, say you don’t get why it’s important to have mandatory break-time because in your opinion, people can take a break whenever they want. If someone is telling you that they want a mandatory break-time, they might have valid reasons that you don’t understand. Try to dig in and understand and be willing to try out ideas that don’t come easily to you. Also, you’re gonna get called out for oppressive behavior (or called in, as I’ll explain later.) Take this personally, cause it is within your personal power to change. But don’t take it as a negative reflection on who you are. We are all healing from a messed up society that has made us think in harmful ways. People are calling you out because you matter to them, they consider you an ally and because they think that you are capable of change.
Outreach. Don’t think a tab labeled “Values” on your website is enough to welcome in diversity. Tap in to local queer communities. Ask them if and how they might want to participate. Ask them to teach your community something. Remember, they don’t “get” to learn from you, you all get to learn from each other! Cultivate individual relationships, friendships!, with people rather than sending a flier to an organization’s front desk. Don’t worry whether people join your project or not; this is more about your own learning and personal expansion than it is about a diversity quota.
Solidarity. Solidarity is understanding that we all have different identities, experience different systems of oppression and require different pathways to liberation. It is not an attempt to homogenize. We can hold these differences and stand side by side, knowing that all oppression is linked and that dismantling oppression benefits everyone. Solidarity means action, not talk. It means coming to events that your allies hold AND inviting your friends. It means educating yourself and others about their issues. It means organizing your own projects that support their efforts and volunteering for things instead of just attending them. Basically, it means “I got your back.”
Please note that all of this is my opinion, derived from what I’ve experienced and heard from others. The best thing you can do is start the conversation from scratch in your own community! What does listening mean to you? Diversity? Solidarity? These are mega buzzwords and warrant more thought.
Nicole: What strength does this diversity bring to our communities?
Annie-Rose: The word “diversity” gets thrown around a lot to the point where I don’t know if I even know it or like it anymore. Right now I am defining it as collective thriving and authentic agency for all beings.
There are two parts to this answer – one is the inherent necessity of social justice as a part of permaculture and earth justice, the other is the extreme goodness that diversity brings.
Liberating the earth and people
I don’t think it makes sense to talk about liberating the earth if we don’t talk about liberating the people on it. To separate ourselves from the earth in that way, to view them as different projects, is to further alienate ourselves from the earth. This is the same kind of thinking that makes it possible to blindly destroy Earth in the first place. Social justice and permaculture go hand in hand for me. There is so much trauma that we all carry from the weight of homophobia, of racism. Even if we are those who benefit from these mindsets, there is a sickness that comes from the hurt and embodied alienation we have from each other. Permaculture is a practice that always looks at the process and incorporates the experience of practitioners into the value of the work itself. So we deserve to work out this trauma and create real alternatives. Otherwise the only people who are going to pick up these practices will be those already empowered to do whatever they want, and that’s a pretty limited movement in my opinion!
Diversity is delicious
Also, diversity is delicious. It is health. It is the joy of learning from those who you thought were different from you but it turns out you can love each other. It is discovering deeper roots, more stories, further richness. It is sustainable because it is interactive, productive, constantly generating new truths and new solutions. These things are not possible with a homogenous group of folks who already agree on everything. Diversity is the beauty of stretching further and staying humble. It is the ecstasy of discovering that you are smaller than ever but more a part of everything than you could have imagined.
Nicole: What does ‘queer’ mean?
Annie-Rose: Queerness asks that we calm our impulse to define. It asks that we engage in the infinite spaces between definition. “Queer” is an orientation towards sexuality and gender, and often reality at large, that allows for multiplicities of truth. There are as many types of queers as there are queers. Queerness is a journey of societal unlearning and an active relearning of our most authentic selves, the self that loves and expresses exactly as it desires. Because our brains are so bound by societal ideas of sexuality and gender, queerness is very much a process, a constant effort to realize our most stunning authentic juiciness. This stuff can get pretty heady, but essentially, queerness means doing what feels good and feeling good about doing it!
Nicole: What does ‘queer’ mean for you personally?
Annie-Rose: My queer identity operates as a constant nudge to sink deeper into my self, to question my choices and to expand further into new possibilities. Queerness is not a pre-formed decision of who I am; it’s an invitation to discover who I am.
Queerness to me means actively listening to myself and to others rather than assuming I already know the answer. It means peeling away the boundaries of love and gender that were artificially drawn around me by dominating forces in the interest of suppressing individuality.
My queerness is political. It is inherently anarchist, anti-authoritarian, anti-capitalist, feminist, and anti-racist. Many essays could be written about why I see all of those connections, but in short, it is a mindset that inherently values all life. I am so totally in the throes of understanding what queerness means to me! A huge part of me just has no idea! It is very much a constant experimentation and reflection. It means that my stance to life is one of always learning.
Nicole: How have you found being queer in relation to the permaculture movement at large?
Annie-Rose: It’s an extremely easy fit for me. Queerness is to sexuality what permaculture is to agriculture. The permaculture way of thinking, of considering process over goals, of stressing experience over ideals; that all breathes out of the same queer core of myself. I have been lucky to work at several queer homesteads where we don’t have to bother saying “queer” without “permaculture”, it always comes out as one word. The radical faeries are a great group to learn about to get a better sense of the roots of this connection. I found permaculture before I found queer politics, and one has been a natural outgrowth of the other.
Nicole: Big question but in short how does society need to be re-designed for real gender & sexual liberation? What role can permaculture designers play?
Annie-Rose: Start loving yourself! Love other people, people who are different from you! Stop being afraid! To me there are many correct answers to this, all of which require that folks believe that they have the right to be happy. I believe that teaching our youth to love themselves is key. I believe queer politics are huge and open up a whole new way of viewing
this liberation. I think that just having people’s needs met; i.e. making sure everyone has access to housing, healthcare, food and education is essential. There’s a tendency to speak in abstract revolutionary metaphors about questions like this, but really there are a ton of queer, gay, lesbian, bi, and trans youth living on the streets right now, sitting in classrooms that teach them self-hate right now, desperately searching for a job because they were fired due to their nonconventional gender right now. There’s plenty of concrete things we take for granted but are real symptoms of oppression.
Get it done
I believe strongly in getting stuff done. Don’t wait for the government to provide all your solutions and don’t hate on your friend because they want to work with the government change policy. Liberation is going to come as a result of millions of people doing millions of different sorts of things. Support each other, celebrate each other, and find what action inspires you.
Eco social design
Eco-social design can play a huge role, because it puts all forms of oppression on the table at once. Hierarchical, colonial, patriarchal, racist, heterosexist, able-ist, capitalistic
mindsets are all linked, all part of the same ability to “other” things that appear different from you and treat them as less valuable. Permaculture is an incredible experiment in creating the alternatives that we want to see, so it is an essential arena for creating social alternatives. If we can be self-sufficient together then we don’t have to rely on the systems of domination that have generated these unbalances in the first place. We can grow a balanced, inclusive culture from the inside.
Nicole: Have you experienced any homophobia within permaculture or land-based projects? How can people stay aware & avoid oppressive practices?
Annie-Rose: Yes. Homophobia is everywhere, friends. It’s even in my own head, although I challenge it and destroy it more and more every day. I’ve been in places where heterosexual couples get celebrated and encouraged while LGBTQ individuals get talked about in whispers. I’ve been asked to represent all queers, always fielding questions about queers in general and made to feel like an outsider. People have assumed who I know, who I sleep with, what I want. I’ve seen LGBTQ men teased for being womanly and weak, which is of course despicable. Homophobia and sexism go hand in hand (e.g. effeminate boys being teased as “girly,” as though that’s an insult).
One way to heal communities is to talk about it openly. Just as you might have a meeting to figure out what crops to plant or how to divide up chores, have a meeting to discuss community agreements and ways that folks want to address oppressive behavior. It is so much easier to address problems when people have already made contingency plans. I use to urge people to develop a culture of calling people out, which means to tell folks when they’ve done something that feels oppressive in the interest of seeing how oppression plays out on the daily and building a better culture.
Recently a friend told about some folks who instead “call people in.” I like that so much more and it’s far more accurate! Call people in who have hurt others.
Regular check ins
Have regular check-ins so that folks know that there’s a pre-established place for them to voice concerns, instead of letting things boil over. Develop some community accountability practices. Educate yourselves and others. Put up signs in bathrooms about gender identity. Ask for people to share their preferred gender pronouns as well as their names during introductions. There are tons of easy-to-read zines available for free online that talk about queerness, oppression, and how to re-educate ourselves. Have reading groups and discussions! One of my favorite farms is a spot outside of Providence, RI where we have big community harvests every sunday and talk about queer politics the whole time. That combination of physical and intellectual stimulation is the bomb-diggity. This can be fun folks!
Nicole: I recently read in a book on (1) Radical Community Organising that “The promise of queer struggles is the exposure to a multiciplity of desires that capital seeks to constrain, and subsequent demands and resistance to centralize pleasure, joy & creativity in everyday lives – all of which are important elements of self-care and community building.” What role can queer struggles play in creating a permanent culture?
Annie-Rose: Queer struggle offers a lens on movement-building in which there is no turning away from one’s experience on the road to liberation. It is the most permanent and sustainable of cultures because it defies the changing whims of social norms and rests solely on the individual and the group to always respond intuitively and uniquely to every new situation on hand. It demands a tolerance for multiplicity, so we can focus on creating love and health instead of wasting our breath trying to convince each other which side of the road to stand on.
More concretely, queer struggle opens up an extremely useful conversation and way of thinking for anyone interested in permanent culture. You don’t have to identify as queer to participate in queer struggle, just as you don’t have to live full-time on a permaculture commune to know it’s worthwhile. We can all take part in this new world of liberation and discovery. It’s not even that there’s enough room for everyone; each person who joins the struggle invents whole new previously-undiscovered space. By engaging in queer struggle we realize our most gorgeous selves. We further incorporate the experiences of the participant into the practice of permaculture. It makes the “doing” of this movement way more succulent, way more fun, way more breathtakingly personal and for all those reasons way more likely to keep people engaged.
Links & Resources
1. Benjamin Shepard (2010), ‘DIY Politics and Queer Activism’ in Team Colours Collective, Uses of a whirlwind. Movement, movements and contemporary radical currents in the United States, Oakland, AK Press
2. To follow the journey of Annie-Rose London: thereisonlymake.tumblr.com, newtacticalltactics.blogspot.com
3. For more links between radical community organising and permaculture: www.wildheartpermaculture.co.uk