Sunday, June 24, 2012

Feminist GA at Occupy Maine Summer Camp

Occupy New Haven, Maine, The Roads, Our Neighborhoods, TV, and Farms exchanging ideas.

Young, old and in between, we've all got to feed ourselves. Consensus: Local food as the basis of local economies is an idea whose time has arrived in a big way.
I was able to be part of three good discussions during day 2 at Occupy Maine summer camp. We started on the patio surrounded by fields sprinkled with tents, and the bugs weren't too bad as long as you slathered up with fragrant oils that bugs hate.

In the morning we heard from local farmers and transition town planners, and talked about how how we can work together to make our food supply sustainable, healthy and democratic. Diverse models of engagement between people and their food were considered. The people in the group were of varied ages, life work and, to some extent, geographic origin, which made for a rich discussion about the all important questions of what to eat and how to live.

Potluck lunch followed and who should appear but The Stolen Mural, a band from the area, high school students that totally rocked the neighborhood, performing revolutionary songs with verve. One could still talk if one shouted as if at a night club, so I listened and ate while having some interesting talks with people as I look forward to anywhere I am able to Occupy. When the band ended to loud applause, as it faded away the neighbors could be heard singing "God Bless America."

After lunch the subject was local citizens fighting corporate polluters and water miners. Activists discussed  ongoing efforts to exercise the right to Home Rule and stop Canadian Tar Sands from entering our bio-region! Successful campaigns to block corporate development of local water supplies, and to clean up a river so polluted that the mist peeled the paint off buildings along its shores were described. By now large and engaged group had crowded into the upstairs floor of the barn where antique fans were moving hot, humid air around. (The first four days of summer have hit at least high 80's and often 90's around Maine. Scary hot for this part of the world. How do we stop global warming before it's too late?!)

In late afternoon it was time for the Feminist GA, co-led by myself and Pat Taub, CODEPINK Maine's newest Local Coordinator in Portland. We went back to the patio, hoping for a cool breeze.
Feminist GA note taker and facilitator at work.
Twenty-eight people, nearly as many men as women, gathered and introduced ourselves. We each commented on why we had chosen to take part in a Feminist GA. Options for a meeting structure were considered briefly and there was a strong consensus in favor of breakout sessions. This turned out to be a very productive arrangement in that it created supportive space for people to talk about how they experience gender, and what that has to do with the patriarchal systems that all people and the Earth suffer under. 

Men and women held their own circles for about 40 minutes, and then after a short break reconvened as a whole group for another 30 minutes, hearing reports from the breakout sessions, and continuing discussions.
Occupy Freeport, MDI and Maine come together at Feminist GA
Wonderful notes were kept thanks to Diane, Ian, James and Susan. Just some of many interesting ideas:
  • Coming together as women is an opportunity to recognize the power of our intuition, and the wisdom of collectively listening to it. This experience builds trust, which also strengthens connections among people. Occupy is about horizontal democracy, and Fem GA is about changing relational dynamics of power that we are all conditioned to, replacing them with trust. Equality can be expressed by “Level Glance” when people are on the same level, eye to eye. Also, we can aspire to listening without being afraid there won't be time to speak, and to not rush when it comes our time to speak.

  • Women tend to hide their light under a bushel, to defer, and to deprecate themselves in relation to others. Getting over this tendency and celebrating our best qualities and strengths would be good for the pool of ideas. Women supporting other women is a good way to help them step out and speak up, even if their voice shakes a little. Supporting younger women is a way of bearing witness to the strength of their individual contribution, and will tend to encourage their participation. Women are very under-represented in media, even more than in government or other decision making roles.

  • Raising decent, healthy sons in a vicious patriarchy is a challenge. The culture is against you. Men suffer as much under patriarchy as women and children do. It's an inhumane system that would benefit everyone and the Earth if dissolved.

  • Men reported their families influenced their understanding of what is is to be masculine. Sometimes groups they are in make them feel they don't belong if they are not masculine in an “acceptable” way. Some men felt listening and observing carefully would be a masculine strength if this was valued. Men reported a lack of any opportunities at all for discussing these issues, and that being able to do so at Occupy summer camp was appreciated.

  • There has been so much loosening up of masculine gender requirements. It's all over the map how you can choose to be a man now. Paradoxically, at the same time as that has been changing, patriarchy has gone out of control, with dominance, violence, war and destruction of the environment everywhere. (I was intrigued by this point and have been mulling it over ever since.)

  • Gender roles are in flux – don't make assumptions. Accidentally hurt feelings made us realize we had erred in offering only two choices, male or female, and we need to remember than gender identity is fluid, and multi-faceted.
As a wrap-up each person was invited to share one thing they would be doing to bring about the better world that is possible. Many people voiced the wish for more opportunities to have conversations around ending patriarchy. As the meeting ended, little conversations broke out all over the room. We had now taken refuge in the barn again because....

There came an enormous thunderstorm and torrential rain -- followed by a

 A good omen! 

And after that I met up with Occupy the Roads, a story that deserves its very own post.


Anonymous said...

This is an excellent summation of a very lively, meaningful GA. As a participant, I found it very informative and hope that we can have more gender GA's in the near future.
Thanks, Pat Taub

chrisrushlau said...

I was at the meeting of the Cumberland County Democratic Committee yesterday and learned something about the influence (paralysis, frozen with fear, more like) of the Israel lobby. The point is that this influence, wielded at the local level by someone whom the goys fear or know ir Jewish, may in fact be so ignorant--the hasbara it retails so uninformed--like whether the US is more heavily engaged in Afghanistan or Pakistan--that it boggles the mind that anybody would be afraid of irritating this person. It'd be like people afraid of offending a six-month-old baby with their political views.
Let's talk. What's the most important thing right now? Let's talk about it. Which thing is that thing? Let's talk about how we figure out what is the most important thing.
I'll just add that Jewish Voice for Peace and Campaign to Stop the Occupation are sponsoring a petition for the State Department asking why a US citizen was told, when she called up the embassy in Israel to get her out of a jam with the border police, that if she wasn't Jewish, they couldn't help--in fact their intervention (they told her) would only make it worse for her.
Today's headline on Haaretz: Morsi [new president of Egypt] Wants Closer Ties With Iran. Now Haaretz is liberal, but that reminds us that liberal genocidal racism is still genocidal racism: in a word, stupid. Of all the things they could say about changes in Egypt, this is their headline?

Anonymous said...

Feminist GAs are an effective way to promote gender bigotry inside what is supposed to be an all-inclusive social movement. Gratz to feminist steering committees and working groups in undermining "General" Assemblies by creating & holding "Special" Assemblies, such as Feminist "GAs"...