On politics, cake and circus

A lot has happened in the year since I last wrote one of these blogs. Since I believe that the personal is political, I’m going to express this from a personal angle.

Women in politics for some reason can be a highly controversial topic for some people. This has always confused me for multiple reasons, but the main one is why on earth is it controversial. I know that sometimes some female politicians such as Caylan Ford in Canada and others can make grave mistakes and have policies that are not appropriate for the modern era. But arguably this is not all women and many women deserve an equal right to a political voice for their opinions, just as men have.

For me, it doesn’t matter if you are a man or a woman. As long as you have good political views, are trustworthy and honest, and have our best interests at heart, it doesn’t matter who you are. There are some great politicians out there. Some who have worked all their life to play a significant part in politics, and they represent countries worldwide. For example, Stewart Kiff in Canada has just been elected to serve for his party after working for most of his life to achieve this. This is a story worth celebrating, and as long as he can project his views and make his constituency a better party, then good for him. Hopefully, other people (men and women) follow in his footsteps soon.

Summer 2016 my local MP Philip Davies infamously spoke about ‘feminist zealots’ wanting women to ‘have their cake and eat it’. He went on to become the only UK MP to speak out in support of the election of Donald Trump. And to carry on his tactic of filibustering legislation he dislikes – including the Istanbul Convention on Domestic Violence because of his passionate belief that equality means treating everyone the same. He consistently fails to recognise that specific groups face specific and structural inequalities and that sometimes it is the job of legislation to address and tackle this. But that is more than enough about Philip – I have spent way too much of my time in the last year thinking and talking about Philip, and in the end, Philip is just a symptom of a messed up system. And so is President Trump.

And I am filled with such hope to be part of what feels like a movement against that system. It is important for us to stand up for what we believe in, and in the political world so much can happen that causes our communities to feel targeted. That is why people will look to facilitate things like North East devolution, for example, with the backing of residents so that funding can be put in the appropriate places. I may be getting off-topic for this post, but it is important to look at all sides and be aware of what is going on out there and how we can help each other through issues that arise within our political and social climate.

I am a founding member of Shipley Feminist Zealots (SFZs) – a local non-partisan group that formed in an attempt to highlight alternatives to Philip’s views on equality. We’ve run cake and conversation stalls, a 1500-strong Sister March (part of the international Women’s March movement that happened the day after Trump’s inauguration), and alternative hustings in the run up to the UK General Election June 2017. All of this is in part an attempt to experiment with how we do politics differently.

It’s hard not to get drawn in to oppositional, shouty, ‘them and us’ stuff. The House of Commons is set up that way and members from both sides have, post election, decried the shouting down, the bullying tactics, the ways (both in parliament and outside) that politics is done. Filibustering is just one of the absurd ways the system is a mess – whoever talks for long enough or shouts the loudest wins the day? Really!?!?! It’s 2017, for goodness sake, surely we can do better than that.

The SFZs struggled in the run up to the election and beyond – strong and passionate people argued for their party of choice and at times started to turn on one another when articulating why their party or strategy was the best approach to achieve a progressive change which all SFZs members want to see.

Trolls attack on Facebook and twitter, desktop warriors sitting behind a keyboard throwing assumptions and accusations. It’s pointless debate – and as depressing as watching the live footage from parliament as the people we let run our country trade in sneering, braying, shouting, not-so-clever insults. Is that how we make a better world?

I feel strongly that this is important – not what our own specific priorities, approaches and policies might be, but HOW we do politics – how we have conversations, how we listen, how we include and engage, how we find solutions and answers, how we work together despite our differences because we need to build a better world, not keep on destroying it.

And we can argue locally and personally and nationally and internationally but eventually we will make ourselves extinct – I thought twice about even mentioning it as I do want you all to keep reading, and I find climate change such an uncomfortable truth tI usually just tell myself it’ll be OK. Sorry, but we all know we can’t carry on like we have and expect humanity to survive. And it’s all connected – personal, local, national, global – the way we do things.

I have to do something – anything, because it’s time to change or die. I have to make my personal, local, national, international interactions be about building a better world. What is the point of a group like SFZs? Is it there to bring down Philip? Or is it more important to reach out and open up to people, to engage and listen, to connect and grow community and empathy?

And intersectionality is a critical part of this. Championing humanity and equality means recognising who is part of the conversation and who isn’t and doing something about it. It means proactively reaching out to those who face multiple inequalities – e.g. LGBT, non-white, disabled, older, younger, socio-economically deprived and other communities and individuals, because it is not enough to just create a space. We have to notice our own privilege and we have to notice when we think it’s not our problem and we have to notice when we ‘other’ people, or we become part of the challenge. Change or die.

What if we all decided that we are accountable and responsible and can be part of the change? What if we all did politics personally? What if we made politics happen in different spaces? In different shapes? In circles, round tables, over a nice cuppa and a piece of cake. Yes, I do want women to have their cake and eat it – and men – and trans women, old black men, disabled people, young people and people for who cake is a luxury they can’t afford. Does that make me a zealot? I hope not.

2018 will be 100 years since (some) women got the vote in Britain.

2018 will be 100 years since the end of the (First World) war to end all wars.

2018 will be 250 years since the founding of the modern circus (in Britain).

What if we really tried doing politics differently – not warring factions but the founders of a circus of ideas and possibilities? What if when we come together we acknowledge and celebrate our differences as strengths and really work together – trust and balance, juggle and fly, not a sideshow or freak show but a show of what humanity can do, if we lift each other up instead of tearing each other down.

What a world we could make together if we really did it differently, personally, passionately and with imagination.

Wow – wouldn’t that be something?

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