Friday, November 30, 2012

The Way Must Be Tried.. Over and over and over again.

The Way Must be Tried.. Over and over and over again.
contributed by Tasia Alexopoulos

What is that old adage, oft used but rarely followed? "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it."

It seems that our administrators at York University, who exalted the past during York's Anniversary, are refusing to learn from history at all. For several years, like most Universities, York has experienced a very serious issue with sexual assault of all forms. From groping to stranger rape, York has seen it all. This isn't a new phenomenon: sexual assault is common on all campuses, in all towns and cities, and in all people's lives. What should be new is the way we approach this issue.

Yesterday the University and our illustrious President Shoukri help a Forum on Community Safety for students, staff, faculty, and community members. Instead of being an actual open Forum for questions and serious discussion the event was a mere publicity stunt; an opportunity to reveal the University's "new" security measures and dedication to safety.

At the open Forum yesterday President Shoukri announced that the University would be graciously spending over $10 million on safety and security on campus. Shoukri not only announced that the money would be spent, but that he has "embraced" the effort to increase safety on campus. The promised funds have already been allocated, with no real input from the University community nor those who are experts in gendered violence. Not once has the President, the Dean, or any VP stepped up and said "Hey, Women's Studies students: What do you think we could do about violence on campus?" Not once have they seriously approached any anti-racist group on campus and asked what those students would consider meaningful safety measures. Unfortunately for all of us, York has a bad track record when it comes to dealing with safety in all forms despite taking a hardline stance. We've seen over and over again how they deal with sexual assault and more often than not it entails telling the ladies on campus to "be aware of their surroundings" and to "lock their doors." For real, several years ago Alex Bilyk of York University told women that the moral of the story (because sexual assault is a story with a moral other than "don't be a rapist") that they need to keep their doors locked. He was responding to a stranger assault in a University residence, perpetrated by someone who did not live in the dorm.

In almost every Security Bulletin we receive about an assault on campus women are advised to buddy up, to be aware of their surroundings and the people around them, and to report suspicious people to York Security Services. This is an outdated approach and hopefully the new Security strategy takes this into account. It does not matter how aware you are of your surroundings or of suspicious people, it does not matter if you buddy up, if somebody wants to assault you they will assault you. The most recent assaults on campus have been in daylight at busy times -- one of them occurred in the lineup for the 196 York Rocket bus, one of the longest bus lineups of all time. A person who will assault a woman in broad daylight, surrounded by people, is someone who knows that the culture on campus permits them to do so -- they know that they will not be stopped and they will not be caught, they feel invincible.

This has nothing to do with how many Security guards are around or how well armed they are. It has to do with the culture on campus that does not take safety seriously, or racism seriously. It's about being part of a campus community that doesn't educate young men about misogyny or assault but, instead, chastises women for not being aware of their surroundings. We are part of a campus that allows sexist advertising to pervade. On a broader political scale we are part of a University that has only had ONE female President and in which some Faculties have never had a female Dean. We are part of a University that discourages students to stand up for themselves when they are harassed by Professors or employers. We are part of a University whose Administrators treat students, staff, and faculty with outright scorn. There are parts of campus that still aren't wheelchair accessible. We are not part of an inclusive, respectful, anti-sexist, anti-racist campus.

The Open Forum on Community Safety shouldn't have been an opportunity to smile at the cameras and pledge your allegiance to the flag of safety, President Shoukri. It should have been an opportunity for students to voice their discomfort, their feelings, their ideas. Instead, when a group of students came to the forum to express their concern about racial profiling on campus they weren't given space, the moderator instructed the microphone runners to ignore certain questions, and VP Morrison smirked the entire time they spoke. A culture that doesn't accept sexual assault also encourages respectful dialogue and this is just not occurring at York. President Shoukri claimed that the "floating" microphones were used to address accessibility issues but when asked how the moderator planned to manage the questions queue he had no response.

So the University will spend $10 million on re-training Security Staff, arming them, and giving them the power to arrest people. They will install more emergency phones. They've created new staff positions and renamed committees.  Nowhere does it say that York is committing itself to ending sexism or racism on campus. Nowhere does it even mention gender. It's great to increase Inclusivity training, but what does that really mean? What we need is York to take a political and ideological stance against what really causes assaults and violence: power imbalances.

I wrote this two years ago, about York University, and in the years since then nothing has changed:
"Sexual assault is an epidemic in Canada and York needs to address the culture of sexism on campus more than it needs to release the metrac report. Sexual assault is not leverage. It is not fair to say "sorry you were raped, young lady, that could have been prevented with more lighting". We need to think, "hey, maybe we need to educate ALL students about sexual assault." Maybe we shouldn't cut funding to women's studies programs, maybe we should increase education around the politics and issues behind sexual assault instead of just acting like cameras and lights are going to save the day."

What is the point of re-training Security officers when you're not educating students?When you're not combating rape culture, sexism, and inequality on campus?

York's motto is "The Way Must Be Tried." This way HAS been tried. It is time to recognize, once and for all, that women have taken responsibility for their own safety and that telling us to be aware of our surroundings will not save us from being assaulted. More Security will not mean less assault, because more Security does not mean less sexism. More heavily armed Security personnel will only increase violence against University community members. It is time for the University to stop calling itself innovative and actually innovate new responses to violence on campus.Yes, prevention is the key but prevention cannot occur until we begin to seriously address the sexist and racist culture on campus. We can't let the administrators, and whatever corporations or political interests they may serve railroad true change just because they hold a community meeting and grace us with their presence. These "safety" initiatives are not enough, we need the University to commit itself, once and for all, to social justice. We need education and cultural shifts, President Shoukri, not more Security guards with tasers. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

You know what's a fun thing to make a wager on? Hungry people!

I'm going to be a killjoy here and burst the bubble of everyone going nuts about Mayor Bet. If you didn't already know the Grey Cup is happening soon and the two teams footballing against one another are the Toronto Argonauts and the Calgary Stampeders. There aren't very many teams in the CFL so I get confused sometimes about why we have a Grey Cup at all, but I don't mind football and Canadian teams should get the same "rah rah rah" as NFL teams I suppose.

Today the Mayor of Calgary offered up a little bet to our own Rob Ford: the losing city's Mayor will donate his weight in food to the winner's food bank and also wear the winning jersey for a city council meeting. First of all, is this a jab at our Mayor's weight? If so, I don't care.

What I do care about is that I think it's kind of stupid of Mayor Nenshi to reach out to Ford right now. He's being sued for libel, people are starting to realize he's corrupt, he's pretty stupid, he says horrifying things constantly, and he skips out on his job to coach football. I also just feel like it's kind of a stupid wager. I'm sure that whoever wins will also end up donating to the other's food bank, but it's in really poor taste to make a food bank donation seem like a free-wheeling charitable fun time for all. Men betting! Mayors having a jovial time! I think a Food Bank donation is a great thing but for a few reasons I think their wager is ill-timed and kind of offensive.

Since 2006, the recession, and the increase in fiscal conservatism in our country, Food Bank usage has absolutely skyrocketed.

Here are some Toronto statistics:

And here are some Calgary statistics:

 A 70% increase in Calgary since 2006.  Over 100'000 Emergency Food Hampers. 42% of their clientele are children. An 18% increase in Toronto since 2008. Food Banks aren't just a natural thing that pop out of the ground, they were supposed to be a temporary solution to the immediate issue of hunger. Food Banks are understocked (and overly stocked with sugary and processed foods lacking in nutrition), rely mainly on volunteers to keep them running, are underfunded, and are not meant to be a permanent fixture in society. These two Food Banks are just that: two Food Banks. That doesn't take into account all of the organizations that provide emergency food, soup kitchens, churches, ands student food banks on college and university campuses. People aren't just hungry because there is no food. People are hungry because our government allows corporations to operate here, use our resources, exploit our labour, pay little to no taxes, and then put absolutely no money into our community infrastructures. People are hungry because they are losing their jobs, because their Unions are being busted. People are hungry because they have to choose between eating properly or paying for childcare so that they can go to work at all. People are hungry because women make less money than men in the same positions, are more likely to have to work several part time jobs, and more likely to have to raise children alone.

Nobody should be patting these two men on the back for making a measly donation to a Food Bank out of the goodness of their big, fat, rich hearts. Applauding Rob Ford for taking on this wager is completely forgetting that he once threw a hissy fit because City Council wanted to have a homeless shelter in every Ward of the City. Since, you know, people are homeless and not properly housed everywhere in Toronto. Having to house the homeless, he said, was an insult to his Ward. How many people in that Ward, I wonder, have ever used a Food Bank? I'm sure Rob Ford would be astounded at the number.

This is the kind of attitude our Mayor has about those who are in need: that they are an insult to those who are not. Last year Rob Ford tried to take budget money out of high priority areas like Day Cares and Community Centres, Homeless Shelters. This year he announced a war on those homeless people who found themselves sleeping at Nathan Phillips Square.

Why don't you make a donation to a Food Bank in Toronto, Mayor Ford? Why don't you address poverty in our city? How can you possible try to throw people out of Nathan Phillips Square when they have nowhere else to go? This is a man with blinders on, he has no idea how society operates for anyone who isn't him: rich, white, privilege. I don't know much about Nenshi's policies on these issues but I would suggest he not align himself with a truly self-righteous and ignorant bigot, who would rather ignore the social issues he is responsible for as Mayor of this City.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Toronto Sun calls two peace activists "Taliban supporters", noone blinks.

This letter, written by two Afghan-Canadian women peace activists, is circulating right now. I'm just going to reproduce the entire thing (I have permission). These two women are being really unfairly attacked by the media who have accused them of disrupting a Remembrance Day Moment of Silence, of being "Taliban supporters", of being "jihadists", and of symbolically sitting on the rights that veterans won them. According to the Toronto Sun, Canadian forces are the reason Afghan women have any rights at all and so basically these women should just sit down and shut up.

It should not be acceptable for any media to write such baseless and racist accusations. It should be especially unacceptable for activists to be targeted because they are women from a country in which Canada has a military stake. The Toronto Sun should prove what they've written about these two women or they should apologize and retract their statements.


The Afghan-Canadian women peace activists respond to false accusations in Toronto Sun article, “Remembrance Day protest an insult to Canada’s war dead”

November 13, 2012
Written: Laila, Suraia Sahar

We, as two Afghan Canadian women, were present at the Remembrance Day ceremony with a banner in remembrance of Afghans murdered by the Canadian military operations. We were not responsible for the alleged disruption of the Moment of Silence as the news media falsely reported, which has censored and discredited our peace activism. From our account, we will provide an honest chronology of events that occurred minutes before and after the police-incited scuffle, recorded on November 11th at Old City Hall in downtown Toronto. There were also two other separate groups at this ceremony with banners, one promoting anti-fascism and the other promoting peace through non-violence. In total, there were three groups located at different parts and times around and outside of the ceremony.

The anti-fascist group began to chant slogans after the police aggressively confronted them and confiscated their banner. They were then pushed towards the sidewalk where we were silently holding our banner. As a matter of fact a elderly veteran chose to stand right beside us and shared no opposition to our message. As the group struggled to retain their banner while it was being crumbled, the police unexpectedly snatched ours. It was during this moment that a bystander began to video record this incident when we were shouting to have our banner back. It appears as if we were shouting for no reason other than to disrupt and provoke. However, in the start of the video, you can hear Laila saying “As an Afghan woman, you will not let me hold a sign. What freedom?” We were avoiding and preventing confrontation since the police had removed us earlier and threatened arrest before the ceremony began. Meanwhile, a mob of white, men escalated the incident when they branched out of the ceremony crowd towards the anti-fascists. They singled out one of them and began to physically attack him with punches to his head several times. At this point, we attempted to stop the violence being inflicted on this protester from his attackers. Once the attackers were pulled off, the police ordered us to leave in which we did and did not return.

We were unable to exercise our freedom of expression. We did not plan or cause any disruption to the Moment of Silence which can be proven by the fact that the memorial was on schedule. Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, the Toronto Sun and its Sun News Network has misrepresented us, such as the following:

1) A Toronto Sun columnist was tweeting us with accusations of being Left-wing Islamists. His followers tweeted us even more racist and islamphobic tweets as well as a threat. He did not condemn such explicit racism and islamophobia but participated in it. He also continued to bother us and another Twitter user to answer to his unprofessional questioning.

2) A Sun News Network host Michael Coren aired an interview uploaded by a YouTube user ridiculously titled “Remembrance Day with Islamic Jihadists”. This user falsely writes in the Description that we were “shouting jihad during a Moment of Silence” and associated us to Islamic Jihadists. In this program, Coren interviews a Sun News Network reporter who has the same opinion about the incident as him. This reporter uses the term Jihadist and suspects “enemy is within the midst.” The islamophobia is reinforced by Coren, he says that they are “many people within the Islamic community who do believe that no foreign troop should be on Islamic land.” Our anti-war activism is not about representing Islam, we are representing our own individual political positions. This tactic to criminalize a religion by the actions of a person who they would like to deem as representative of that religious community is an old, racist and popular media trick.

3) The November 12 feature article in Toronto Sun by columnist Joe Warmington titled “Remembrance Day protest an insult to Canada’s war dead” was advertised on its websites front page in a banner titled “The ugly side of freedom.” The article wrongly attributes the entire disruption to us with no inclusion of our voice but a private e-mail from Suraia that was shared with them by their conservative media friends at NewsTalk 1010. The disturbing part of the article is the description under the photo of the scuffle, it baselessly states that we were the cause of this “chaos.” Another even disturbing false accusation is that we were “women supporting the Taliban¹s position” and are “Taliban sympathizers.” A tactic to censor anyone else in the future who publicly does not support the Canadian military in fear of being labelled a terrorist. Mr. Warmington’s article Comment Section is now full of closet-xenophobe-racist-sexists rampaging with threats and hate-speech, reinforced by the articles dishonest reporting. A comment demanded that we be water-boarded and stripped of our citizenship, this was liked 143 times - very telling of a so-called peacekeeping nation.

The ugly side of freedom is the state-run military spectacle supporting the NATO-led imperialist war and occupation in Afghanistan but parading as a false guilt-trip memorial for those who sacrificed to fight for “our” freedoms. Well, just in case you selectively forgot, your parade is and has always been on stolen, occupied, Native land - what about their freedoms to sovereignty and the Afghan peoples for self-determination? What about our freedom of speech which was infringed on when an officer called our message “trash” and “laughable.” We courageously endured a violent and racist crowd calling out: “go back to your country”, “kill more [Afghans]” and “we dont care about Afghans.” There is no real freedom or peace - it is a national myth - when cultural, economic, military and political imperialism is what maintains it.

After this protest, we have received strong love and support from reputable groups and individuals, thanks to the integrity we have built in our peace activism:

Im sorry for the hate you have to endure. Its a sad state of affairs when one is branded a “Taliban sympathizer” for remembering the innocents killed in a blatant act of aggression. You’re a brave person.
-B.H, US veteran served in Afghanistan

Stereotyping is a particular kind of failure, I know, but sadly nationhood is the language of the hour. There was a time when Canadians were rightly held throughout the world as a shining counterpoint to their rapacious cousins in England and America and I say that as an Englishman who has fought in US contrived wars. Can a culture really exist among that people in which committed young women – fine Afghan-Canadians, no less! – are pilloried and threatened for opposing the prevailing jingoism? If this is the case, then a people once thought plucky and stubborn in the face of power have been robbed of their enviable history of sheltering resisters and dissidents. If our idealistic Johnny Canuck has truly gone when the world cries out for his contribution, as it does lately, then it’s a bloody grim day for the rest of us
- Joe J. Glenton, UK veteran served in Afghanistan

“Seems people still continue to listen to the myths they believe about their country and military. Violence seems to be the standard with those racists.”
-A. B., York University alum

They weren’t engaging in any violence nor were they saying things like “fuck the troops” etc. You should realise that Remembrance Day is being used by many governments now that celebrate it to promote their war of aggression in other countries, and this should be spoken out against! If the governments really cared about these veterans they wouldn’t send more soldiers to die, no? And the entire point that Remembrance Day was created for was to realise what the soldiers went through and say NO to war, not to make more of it!
A.A, student University of Waterloo

The comments under [Toronto Sun’s] article just goes to show how unsafe it is for Muslim people here. And even worse, how the media reinforces hate by lying and manipulating what you guys actually did there….. that is terrible.
-A.R, student at University of Toronto

The image of the peaceful Canadian was always a myth, but at least it was based on a grain of truth - no doubt many Canadians aspired to live up to the mythical ideal. However, the facts of Canada’s colonial history through to the current evermore aggressive foreign policy regime disprove the myth. I do agree Joe that “Johnny Canuck” should fight for his soul - the mythical ideal of the peaceful Canadian should be pursued.
-M.K, York University professor

We gratefully thank those who stood by us with such love and support when mainstream news media began a shameless campaign singling out two, young, Afghan Canadian women peace activists to be wrongfully hated, threatened and abused. How can a nation be “liberating” Afghan women overseas when it is not protecting its own here? Now this is history to not be forgotten but remembered and honored.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Holding out for that Christmas Worm feeling.

Some people go bananas over Christmas. They decorate their houses, their cars, their workplaces. They listen to Christmas music and make Christmas themed treats. They have Christmas parties and wear ugly Christmas sweaters.

I like Christmas. I think it's a nice time of year (mainly because it coincides with breaks from school and work). I always look forward to spending time with my family, eating cookies, playing xbox, putting a tree up.  I also like many of the accoutrements of Christmas: the decorations and lights, the occasional snow. I live in Koreatown so I always look forward to the Tiger Lights going up, courtesy of the Koreatown B.I.A. Christmas is generally a time of year when people are feeling simultaneously stressed out to the max but also generous so it feels like people are less likely to push you out of their way or close a door in your face. Also, my oldest friend on the planet was born Christmas Day and I'm pretty sure that for the first few years of my conscious life I thought she was the reason we had Christmas at all.

So, I don't hate Christmas. I like it. That being said I also understand that many people do not like Christmas or don't celebrate the holiday for many different reasons. Even if you like Christmas it can still feel overwhelming and jarring at times, so I can imagine it must be hell on earth for people who don't celebrate Christmas or who don't like Christmas. As soon as the Halloween decorations come down the Christmas ones go up and we're all in for two months of non-stop cheery elves, drummer boys, and wrapping paper.  Christmastime (especially for the non-religious who are like "Jesus who?") is also unprecedented in its pressure to BUY ALL THE THINGS. Buy the things to show your family and friends you care, buy the things to show your partner how much you really love them, buy the things to make that person you like realize they like you too. If you don't buy all the things then noone will like you, everyone will think you're rude, and you are a cruel monster who doesn't understand the Spirit of Christmas. 

For all of these reasons when I read that Shoppers Drug Mart was going to hold off on the Christmas music for a few weeks I felt happy. Christmas music and decorations that pop up right after Halloween really bother me because it's like I just bought all the candy and the costumes and the decorations for spookytime, give me a break! It's hard to transition from blood and guts to baby jesus and peace on earth so a little time in between would be grand. Also, two months of Christmas music is too much, it's just too much. It seems that many people do not share my opinion. I decided to go over some of the comments on Shoppers' Facebook page (where they made their announcement) and I was shocked by the backlash (why would they announce it at all? Just don't play the music and noone will notice, right?).

Some commenters supported the decision, saying that it's respectful to wait until after Remembrance Day to "honour the vets" etc. Some people said "hurray, only one month of Christmas music, my ears thank you!" Some people were not so understanding. 

This person is angry because if Wal-Mart does it then everyone should. They think that the people who complained about the Christmas music should "remember" Christmas as a holiday with "good cheer, family time and warm memories." November is dreary enough, the music helps! This person clearly has no understanding of the fact that some people don't believe in Christmas but, also, that some people have bad memories of Christmas.

I was surprised at how many of the comments were angry because Christmas music is basically a natural phenomenon that God sent to earth to cheer us all up because we all LOVE Christmas. It doesn't seem to occur to some people that Christmas is not a thing for some people, or that some people may not have families, maybe they were abused at Christmas, maybe their parents died at Christmas. Christmas Cheer is not an innate human instinct, it's a learned thing and not everyone wants to experience it.  A lot of people threatened to take their business elsewhere: "I'm going to London Drugs!" "I'm going to Rexall!" It's like, really? Because you can't listen to music while you buy your tampons and toilet paper you're going to go buy them elsewhere? You need to hear Silent Night while you pick out the right suppository? It's a Drug Store, not a fancy Department store where you'll spend hours perusing. You go in, buy your conditioner and dental floss,and you get out.

Then of course we get into the racists. The racists who are like this is CANADA! Play our music! We are Canadians and Canadians love Christmas!! This person doesn't even have to elaborate when he bemoans the end of Canadian identity from his mobile device:

This next one I reported to Facebook for hate speech:

THAT race. That race insisting on praying to "Allah" but denying ALL christians the right to pray. That race is ruining Christmas and they're doing it because they are not Canadian. They are foreign and if they don't like Canada they can go back to the Pacific Ocean from whence they came. Like WTF. Really? First of all, race and religion are not the same thing. Second of all, you are a racist. A lot of religions don't celebrate Christmas. A lot of people who are religious don't celebrate Christmas. Blaming the decline of Christmas because of one "race's" insidious attack on Christianity is insane. Third of all, Madison Avenue is not in Canada so.. you know, your argument about this being Canada and all might not really work on that one.  This is insane, if this person exemplifies the Christmas spirit then the Christmas spirit is fuuucked up.

It's just truly bizarre to me that people will rant and rave about a few weeks of Christmas music. Who cares? Everywhere else is playing music, is it going to kill you to have one five minute reprieve from it a day? How often do these people go to Shoppers' anyways?

So people are nuts about Christmas. They will defend listening to Christmas music in every single store they shop in until they are blue in the face. People are racist. People are mean. People think that their customs should be everybody's customs. This last comment is my favorite: Christmas music gives us that worm feeling this time of the year and that worm feeling is really what Christmas is all about, right?

We should all take a cue from mystery Facebook commenter four, who in the midst of all this insanity took it upon herself to remind us all (from her mobile device) about what really matters, to remind us of the true symbol of peace on earth and the Christmas season: The Christmas Worm Feeling.

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