7 lessons from a continually alienated feminist student activist.
The lack of awareness within student politics is one of its great pitfalls. Every year women must restate that they should be able to freely and safely fight for their liberation. So, as I continue to struggle to engage with activism, here are seven lessons I would like to pass on.
1- Women are important, and including them matters.
The popular impression of feminism amongst men is that it is ‘toytown politics’ – and this is true to the extent that men don’t give a flying fuck about us.
2- You cannot escape the macro-political climate in which you swim, but you do a very good job by continuing to not recognise the destructive forces of patriarchy.
The experience of being at the mercy of huge social and political forces on one hand, and being witness to the power and desire of left-men to keep up these social and political forces is something that almost any feminist will recognise. To the extent that feminism is a left-wing or anti-capitalist endeavour at all, feminism is inextricably bound to the fortunes of the labour movement and the ‘wider-left’ who are also completely fucking ignored – to the cycles of rapists in Occupy, abusers on picket lines, and big shifts in political culture, like the now widespread habit of denouncing intersectional politics from national platforms (see also: Caitlin Moran, Lily Allen, SWP).
3- You are not too cool for school: get involved in existing groups.
JOIN NCAFC! Or don’t, because they refuse to listen to the voices of women raising concerns about our safety regarding sexual assault and emotional manipulation. Join a group if you want to, and if you share politics with a group, and feel safe in said group. Do not join a group because it is the ‘done thing’. Organise locally, build strong links and solidarity, and then we might be able to organise nationally. Make sure you local spaces are safe places for the oppressed to enter- challenge abuse wherever it arises.
4- Fight to change your collectives, because without that groundwork, we’re doomed.
Some ideas are intolerable and can only be met with scorn, confrontation and ridicule. Sadly, the majority of white men activists don’t agree on these things. Having abusers and their apologists amongst your ranks makes your organisation exlusionary to huge numbers of women and survivors whose contributions are vital. They are single mothers forced out homes due to benefits cuts. They have crucial links to the abortion movement. They are those fighting to eradicate patriarchy from capitalism and anti-capitalism alike. Do not fuck with us. In tiny activist circles and islands it is possible to forget that this is the case – and most do.
5- You are not too cool for school (again): take ideas seriously.
Ideas come in a multiplicity of formats- your conversations in pubs, your lived experience, the blogs you read and the tweets you tweet are an important part of political resistance. Sadly, not all of us have the resources, conventional ‘intelligence’, ability and time to read Das Kapital, whilst I’m sure it’s a crackin’ read. ‘Intellectual culture’ is used to silence those who are not able to learn from and challenge ideas within the format. We are derided as residing in the ‘dark corners of the internet’, when in fact, that’s where we feel safe, where we can create our own abuser-free safe spaces, and genuinely engage and learn. The internet certainly is a Marxist response.
In student activism, so much is done not on the basis of ideological conviction, but on the basis of what can get you a solid career in the labour party, and perhaps most importantly what particular people in positions of power are doing and thinking. Perhaps the most stand-out example of this in recent years is the growth of absolutely fucking clueless derision of anarchism. The portrayal of anarchists as simultaneously authoritarian circle-jerkers who seek purity, control of political spheres, or maybe just safe spaces for organising, and also as shit-smearing monkeys who are just so against structures, man is a perfect example of this bullshit misunderstanding of anarchist praxis and spaces. For example, fighting the SWP, their support for Martin Smith (don’t fucking hide his name, you coward), and pointing out the nature of the SWPs structures’ tendencies to close down dissent and cultivate abuse- whilst not forgetting their similarities to other centralised organisations *cough* – somehow then means you are against all political structures. A++ would logical fallacy again.
But seriously- take ideas seriously! Accept criticism, recognise that you *are* oppressive by the very nature of you existing in such a heteronormative, white supremacist, patriarchal ableist capitalist state, and listen to the wishes of those below you in kyriarchal structures. Another top-notch idea is this thing called ‘survivor-led processes’. If someone in your organisation has abused another person, ask the survivor what they want to happen, what will make them feel safe, valued, and that some kind of transformative justice has been pursued. Do not laugh at them, dismiss them, ignore them, or call them liars. That’s not a good idea.
6- Sabbatical officers: they aren’t all that great, and being one isn’t all that healthy.
Sabbs can do great things, they can pour money into existing projects, they can take advantage of national platforms, and they can take the fall for activists who are in a more precarious position than they. But, they’re really not all that important. Resistance existed before sabbaticals, and the annual drainage of the health, time and money of activists into elections is, truly, one of the student left’s greatest pitfalls. Year upon year new people are elected to sit at tables with management and appease those in power. Year after year radicals liberalise their politics in order to look electable. Fuck this. We need backbone if we’re going to get anywhere, comrades.
Further, many sabbaticals who leave without being consumed by the liberal establishment, or with a shred of integrity find their mental and physical health destroyed. Let’s not make out like being a sabb is a great thing, it really hurts a lot of people.
7- He who is tired of student activism…
should have probably left the reins to others a long time ago. 4 more years!