Tag Archives: activism

The Secret History of Pride

Pride Month

To celebrate Pride Month, we have developed a blog series with weekly posts, designed to allow UTP authors the opportunity to share with us what Pride means to them, and to discuss a whole manner of Pride-related topics.

Our final contribution to our Pride Month series comes from Sex and the Weimar Republic author Laurie Marhoefer. Marhoefer shares what Pride means to her, explores the history of gay rights activism, and notes how Pride has changed over the past century.

Pride, which in my neighborhood in Seattle rivals Christmas for importance (we already have our flags and signs out and the marches are two weeks away), came out of a historical event, the Stonewall Riots in New York City in 1969. Stonewall wasn’t the beginning of gay rights, however. Gay rights has a much longer history. A lot of it isn’t nearly as sexy as Pride (at its best) can be.

The fight for legal equality for “homosexuals,” as they came to be called towards the end of the nineteenth century, seems to have begun in a Swiss alpine village in the 1830s, if it did not begin with the French Revolution.

Well before the Second World War, many people around the world (and a majority of Germans, I’ll bet) knew that there were same-sex loving individuals who claimed to be members of a “sexual minority” (rather than debauched sinners, as the Christian worldview had it) and argued for the repeal of laws against same-sex sex. Very few people agreed with the homosexual emancipationist view of things. But some did, particularly the homosexuals themselves.

The thing was, this movement for gay rights may not have made you want to wave the rainbow flag around. It was kind of conservative. My UTP book, Sex and the Weimar Republic: German Homosexual Emancipation and the Rise of the Nazis, explores that movement, led by Magnus Hirschfeld and others. Those activists fought Germany’s law against sodomy. But they did so by vilifying sex workers, creating an implicitly white gay subject, and buying into eugenics. By the 1920s there was a robust independent trans rights movement, too, and it was also invested in making trans people “respectable.”

Before the late 1960s, for most gay activists the goal wasn’t to be out and proud. It was to get the police to stop arresting people for having consensual sex in private. People wanted to quietly live out their otherwise conventional lives. A giant parade of homosexuals and gender-benders would have horrified them.

Pride is different. It is from the 1970s, not the 1830s or the 1920s. Some of Pride’s roots are in radical, antiracist, anti-imperialist left-of-center gay and trans activism. Though it hasn’t always lived up to those beginnings – for more on that, see what I wrote here – it sometimes does. The pro-sex fabulousness of Pride, and the in-your-face claim on public space that Pride makes, that’s from the 1970s, baby.

That’s what Pride means to me. Gay rights isn’t always left-of-center. It never exists outside of another, broader political vision, and those visions can be pretty darn right-of-center. But Pride can be a better moment in queer and trans politics, a leftist, antiracist moment, one that echos a time when queer and trans people set out to transform the world into a more just one, not just to quietly fit in to an unjust world.

Laurie Marhoefer is an associate professor in the Department of History at the University of Washington.

Learning Activism: The Intellectual Life of Contemporary Social Movements

To mark the publication this week of Learning Activism: The Intellectual Life of Contemporary Social Movements, the author, Aziz Choudry, provides the following background, as well as thoughts on how the book might be used in the undergraduate or graduate classroom. The book launches this Wednesday in Montreal at the Immigrant Workers Centre, 4755 Van Horne Ave., Suite 110, from 5:00 to 7:00 pm. Visit the McGill event page here.

Learning Activism

Learning Activism is primarily about the intellectual labour—the learning, knowledge production, and research—that takes place in the course of organizing and activism. Indeed, in this book I suggest that some of the most radical critiques, understandings, and theories about the world we live in, its power structures and dominant ideologies, and the fragility of the environment—and indeed the most powerful visions for social change—emerge from ordinary people coming together and working for such change.

For teaching purposes, I’m often drawn to books that incorporate, in different ways, narrations of the author’s everyday observations and experiences—to make their points as well as review and reference selective areas of scholarship. This book tries to balance insights derived from some of my own organizing and activist education practice with scholarship about activist learning, knowledge production, and research in sufficient depth to be helpful to both student and broader audiences. Drawing from a range of contexts, Learning Activism discusses the significance, dynamics, and politics of forms and processes of informal and non-formal learning, education, research, and other forms of knowledge production within social, political, and environmental activist milieus. Examples include anti-colonial currents within global justice organizing in the Asia-Pacific, activist research and education in social movements and people’s organizations in the Philippines, migrant worker struggles in Canada, and the Quebec student strike.

The book is born out of many conversations, debates, and arguments and is in dialogue with many other people, ideas, theories, and struggles. It should be of interest to people working in several disciplines concerned with learning, knowledge production, research, and social action/social movements. Besides education, this includes sociology, political science, international relations, critical anthropology, community development, social work, and international development. Learning Activism could be integrated into undergraduate courses and graduate seminars as well as serving as a reference for scholars in these and related disciplines. It may be adopted as a text in courses related to social movements, learning and adult education, organizing and non-formal learning, community development, international development, global education, and social justice, for example. It’s written in a style that should also be accessible to activists, community, trade union, and NGO practitioners and broader publics.

Throughout this book I highlight the intellectual contributions of informal and non-formal learning, knowledge production, activist research, and organizing to the academic field of education and learning, and educators in general. I also address some theoretical, analytical, and pedagogical questions in ways that should be relevant to organizers and activists. It is neither a social movement studies reader nor a traditional text on social movement learning or adult education. Along the way, it engages critically with some of the literature in the field of social movement studies as part of a broader project. It tries to break the serious analysis of social movement learning out of the particular sites where it usually takes place (like adult education programs and literature) to make it more widely accessible. It is not meant as an exhaustive text on the study of social movements, but instead, points readers to further sources that include many theoretical works as well as more popular or activist literature.

I do not believe that activism can be neatly packaged into boxes labelled “organizing,” “education/learning,” “research,” and “action.” Academic scholarship commonly demands and generates such categories, but it is not always analytically helpful to carve up and analyze people’s activities in the world, nor is it an accurate reflection of how things actually happen. For that reason, dividing the book’s content into chapters and sections reflects convenience rather than rigid categorization or narrow compartmentalization. The book can be read in the order in which it is presented, or its chapters can be read to complement themes of courses in any order.

At the heart of this book is the simple idea that people struggle, learn, educate, and theorize wherever they find themselves. The forms this takes may change, but the importance of spaces and places for collective action, learning, reflection, and intergenerational sharing is crucial to building, sustaining, and broadening resistance to injustice and exploitation. A critical eye to history is vital, together with an openness to valuing processes of informal and non-formal learning, and knowledge created from the ground up. Indeed, this lens is necessary for those who want to link critical knowledge to action and for action to be informed by deeper historical understandings of how and why we are in the state we are in. This, in turn, connects to my collaboration in this book with photojournalist Orin Langelle’s powerful photography, including the striking front cover image. In Langelle’s words, his photographic work aims to “counter the societal amnesia from which we collectively suffer—especially with regard to the history of social and ecological struggles. This is not merely a chronicling of history, but a call out to inspire new generations to participate in the making of a new history.”

The politics of documenting earlier and contemporary histories of social movements is an important thread running through the book, and one which also points to future prospects for change. I think it can be instructive and sobering to reflect on how ideas and causes once viewed radical, subversive, and even criminalized can sometimes become mainstream (and perhaps, how this can happen in reverse, sometimes). The strategies, tactics, and methods used, the dilemmas they have grappled with, and many of the people involved are often airbrushed out of dominant or ‘common sense’ accounts, affording instead dangerously sanitized and sometimes wildly inaccurate misrepresentations about the dynamics and histories of social and political change.

In conclusion, although you won’t find many neatly packaged answers in Learning Activism, the book puts forward lots of questions—and a strong sense that the struggles for social, political, economic, and ecological justice are unfinished business. In that sense, freedom may well become, as Angela Davis suggests, “not a state for which one yearns, but rather an incessant struggle to remake our lives, our relations, our communities, and our futures.”

Aziz Choudry is Associate Professor, Department of Integrated Studies in Education, McGill University, and Visiting Professor at the Centre for Education Rights and Transformation, University of Johannesburg.

Launching The Democratic Imagination

Gladstone Hotel Sandwich BoardOn the evening of Wednesday October 17, several members of the UTP Higher Education team attended a packed book launch for UTP’s new book by James Cairns and Alan Sears, The Democratic Imagination: Envisioning Popular Power in the Twenty-First Century. People were lined up outside the ballroom doors at the Gladstone Hotel in Toronto, and there was definitely a buzz of anticipation in the air.

The event was co-organized by This Is Not a Reading Series (a.k.a. TINARS). Hosted by Ralph Benmurgui, the launch featured several speakers (activist Mary-Jo Nadeau, professor Sedef Arat-Koc, and activist/filmmaker John Greyson). Each speaker was asked to bring an object that symbolized their relationship with democracy, and express their own democratic imagination to the audience. The objects included a safety vest (think crossing guard or construction worker), bread and roses, and a telescope. The explanations ranged from talking about the limitations and successes of activism to the idea that perhaps democracy is always an unfulfilled dream, but one that is a necessary struggle.

During an interviewAuthor Interview with the authors, Benmurgui asked tough but provocative questions. One of the most interesting came when he asked if activists also required some level of spirituality to sustain them. Sears suggested that activists are constantly reinventing rituals and spiritual ideas, using the example of the unique way AIDS activists have dealt with death and grieving. In the Q&A after the interview, an audience member asked if democracy in the age of social media required more listening. Cairns agreed, suggesting that we don’t just need to listen to each other, but that we can also “listen to history” and in the process stimulate action that we may otherwise not have accomplished.

Technology was ever-present, allowing the audience and even people not in attendance to get in on the discussion. There was a live Twitter feed and the tweets were displayed on one of the brick walls of the room by a projector for all to see. The audience was treated to a video with discussion of the concerns surrounding democracy. There was also a slideshow of images of popular power on a screen behind the stage that nicely punctuated the interview with the authors.

One thought that most struck me was the idea of causes searching for a voice. The other side to this, however, is the fact that the voice needs to feel as though it has the ability not just to participate, but to actually make a difference. In the classroom, this book can help students to better understand democracy in their own lives, and give them a way in which to get involved. By discussing democracy openly, with the understanding that there is no one method or type, students will be able to expand their own democratic imaginations. The audience was left with a sense that democracy should be an open discussion – democracy exists both from above and below.

– Joanna Kincaide, Sales and Marketing Assistant
UTP Higher Education Division

For more information visit www.democraticimagination.com.

2011 Women’s World Conference

From July 3-7, UTP participated in the book fair of the 2011 Women’s World conference in Ottawa. There was a constant buzz throughout the conference as 2,000 participants from 92 countries took part in Canada’s first hosting of the conference. Held every three years since 1981, the conference has travelled to eleven countries, covering six continents. This year’s theme, “Inclusions, Exclusions, Seclusions: Living in a Globalized World,” brought together union women, teachers, activists, researchers, grassroots organizers, and of course, a few men. Events were held in English, French, and Spanish, and when possible, other languages. The conference also encouraged women from under-resourced communities to apply to the Solidarity Fund, which financially assisted women with travel expenses and other costs associated with attending the conference.

Each day started with a group plenary session held at the new Ottawa Convention Centre.  A diverse panel of four to five speakers introduced themselves in relation to each day’s theme. Breaking Cycles, Breaking Ceilings, Breaking Barriers, and Breaking Ground were the topics, and discussion spilled over into the smaller In Focus sessions held throughout the day. Tuesday’s plenary session, Breaking Ceilings, concluded with a solidarity march to Parliament Hill in honour of missing and murdered Aboriginal women.

The book fair was held on the main floor of the Desmarais building on the University of Ottawa campus. Many of the In Focus sessions were also held in the building, and the UTP booth was busy each day, selling titles as different as Violence Against Women, Defamiliarizing the Aboriginal, and Pop Culture. It was a conference of sharing stories and experiences, which translated to an interest in others’ experiences and research and lots of interest in UTP publications.

The conference website continues to be updated with new materials, including podcasts, pictures, and video (including links to the conference YouTube channel. Sessions and plenaries are available for viewing, as well as blog posts, testimonies, and a lot of food for thought.