"Wherever two of you are
there is Politics in the midst of them."
most of my life I bitterly avoided politics -- school politics, office
politics, club politics, family politics. Most of us hate what we call
"politics" -- usually meaning manipulative favor-brokering to achieve
personal ends within a group.
Now I talk to City Councils and Neighborhood
Councils on a regular basis. I campaign for initiatives, write letters
to politicians, and do my utmost to influence public policy.
I didn't jump from There to Here. It was a
step-by-step process of seeing things that had to be done and taking
a part in doing them.
There are times now that I get called an "activist"
in a disparaging tone, as when people who oppose certain homeless actions
say, "You aren't a homeless person, you're just an activist." To me,
"activist" just means "a person who acts." There are those who read
about issues and discuss issues and speak up about their opinion on
the issues -- and there are those who act on the issues, to create an
actual change in conditions. Many people are intolerant of both, but
they are far more intolerant of those who are doing something than they
are of those who are talking about it.
It is necessary to read about issues, think
about them and discuss them, before you act. And speaking up about your
opinion is an action, one that can have a measurable
effect. But sooner or later, to move your ideals into the physical universe,
you have to physically do something about them.
I have been called a "radical," and a "left-wing
radical." I am not sure that all left-wing radicals would claim me,
because I have been known to express doubts whether Che Guevara was,
in fact, the Messiah. However, I don't get at all upset about being
called a left-wing radical.
Frankly, I don't care if you call me left-wing,
right-wing, or a Purple Mongoose. There is some value to defining terms
and clarifying our concepts. It is also possible to dissappear into
a spinning morass of ever-spreading verbiage.
My favorite way of defining "fantasy" and "science
fiction" is to list some of my favorite fantasy books and some of my
favorite science fiction books. I'm going to try to describe some of
my political ideals by example. Then I'm going to get back to work. Find
Washington State, County, and Seattle City Officials
Currently one of the most overused words in Politically-Correctdom.
Will often cause nausea upon appearance. Many people who are actually
doing it are trying to find alternate words for it, to avoid the gag
In actual practice, if an individual has the
controlling voice in the decisions that affect her life, she is "empowered."
To give a person control over the decisions that affect her is to "empower"
her. This can be done by providing information, by teaching skills,
by delegating power, or a number of other ways.
You do not empower people by telling them what
to do "for their own good." Occasionally, the most empowering thing
you can do for someone is to allow her to fall flat on her own face.
I have learned a whale of a lot more in my life from the decisions I
made for myself that were wrong, than I did from the decisions other
people made for me that were right.
Transferring skills is critical to empowerment.
You are empowering your children when you teach them to cook and clean
and mend clothes for themselves, instead of being the only one they
can depend on to do such things. If you are the only one in the shelter
program who knows how to do email, and everyone has to send and receive
their email through you, you are disempowering the whole bunch and you'd
better get hopping on a training program.
Empowerment isn't something a bunch of radicals
thought up in the 90's. It wasn't called "empowerment" when the Boston
revolutionaries declared "no taxation without representation," but it
was the same idea. It wasn't called "empowerment" when generations of
relatives advised over-protective moms to "let your children make their
own mistakes," but it was the same idea. It isn't really a revolutionary
idea for Americans. It's only a revolutionary idea when you apply it
to people who might not do what you want them to do, if you empower
There are bureaucrats who consider that they are running "self-managed
housing" because the residents are allowed to choose the color of paint
on the walls, and who is going to carry out the garbage.
There are others who deny that a shelter started
by homeless people and run by homeless people is really "self-managed",
because a purchase of toilet paper was made without obtaining group
I regard these as the signs that a program is
Your soul has not been truly tried until you have been through The Consensus
Meeting From Hell.
If you are truly dedicated to empowerment and
self-management, then it follows as the night the day that everyone
in your group must have their say in decision-making and no decision
must be acted on until all disagreements have been resolved and the
decision formulated is one that everyone can live with.
And if you make every tiny decision in your organization
by this full process, you are a dang-fool idjit -- but at least you
will die young of nervous prostration and take yourself out of the gene
It is immensely valuable to pursue consensus:
when a solution is found between two opposing viewpoints it is often
better than the solution that either party could have come up with alone.
But true consensus takes sincere effort on the part of all involved
to actually achieve a consensus -- not to achieve getting everyone else
to agree with them.
Like most things that are important, consensus
is not easy. It takes a lot of active effort to make
sure everyone is speaking up and being heard -- and to keep the ball
rolling at the same time. For more information on consensus:
There is much talk on the email lists about democracy vs republicanism,
socialism vs communism, anarchy vs everybody, and the virtues of Fredonism
(or any other newly-invented system). In my opinion, you can have the
most ideal system in the world, and if you have malicious thugs running
it it's going to be hell. If you have well-meaning thugs running it
-- the kind who want to control everything you do "for your own good"
-- it may be hell. On the other hand, you can have a totalitarian dictatorship,
and if it's run by the right people it could be heaven (in fact this
sounds just like the Christian Fundamentalist view of Heaven).
I have explored alternate political theories
myself. Currently, I believe that if everyone practiced the three principles
above -- empowerment, self-management, consensus -- in families and
neighborhoods and companies and on up through cities and counties and
nations, the world would run as close as is humanly possible to the
balance of personal freedom and public order that any theorist is after
in all these political philosophies.
One study in "what makes a good marriage" found
that the skills of "active listening" and conflict resolution were of
minor importance to one critical factor found in all lasting relationships
-- the willingness to let the other person be right.
I propose that most of the problems in the world
today could be handled if we worked together as a community, listening
to each other and actively seeking common ground and mutually workable
solutions. I propose that each of us temporarily table the urgent need
to Be Right; until, let's say ... sometime after the Heat Death of the
My fiancé says that I am manic and delusional
and I should take another Lithium. I say that ideals are worth pursuing,
or we never get anywhere.
What do you think?
vote, your vote may not make a difference.
If you don't vote, your vote will definitely
not make a difference.
I am in favor of speaking up, speaking out, getting
involved and making yourself heard on all hands.
So vote. It won't take any more time than you
probably already spend griping about politics, and it can't be any less
effective than that, can it?
Once you start voting, of course, you might want
to go farther. Help turn out the vote. Spread information on registration.
Organize transportation to the polling place on voting day. Do your bit
to make it fashionable to actually know what the hell the local elections
are about. Adult humans have been known to get perennially excited over
which tribal group can bat the ritual ball and run around the sacred circle
the most times. At one time in human history local elections raised that
much fever. Cycles do turn. Make history.
Q. How many militant feminists
does it take to change a light bulb?
A. One. And that's NOT funny!
it's one of my favorite jokes. My only real difficulty with some
people who call themselves feminists is that it sounds so odd to me to
hear someone say, "I insist on being treated like a human being -- you
male-chauvinist pig!" The group I ran with in the sixties used to like
to say "We're not just for feminine liberation -- we're for human liberation."
I still feel that campaigning for the human dignity of any group -- whether
the homeless, the mentally ill, women, or immigrants -- requires that
I respect the human dignity of everyone, even those opposed to me. (Although
I still claim that certain mayoral figures sexually molest underaged male
hamsters, I claim it calmly and with dignity.)
But I have seen a real cultural change in my lifetime.
I grew up with a mother who worked, and wrote, and spoke publically about
her beliefs -- but I was one of the only girls in school who did. I had
to run with the boys to find anyone to discuss science and science fiction
with. In my thirties, working as a computer programmer, I looked around
and realized that I was surrounded by technically trained women who read
science fiction. At least one of them had the hots for Stephen Hawking
just as much as I did.
Today I work with a group of homeless and formerly
homeless women, WHEEL, who organize and campaign for programs to address
the problems of homeless women. We are respected in this town, Seattle,
where we have had real effects. I've stood up in public meetings of the
City Council and the State in what I call my "three-week-old clothes and
three-day-old hair," had my say and been taken seriously. I don't think
the Mayor's office calls me a grrrl, but when I brought an injunction
against the City all by my non-attorney lone self, they sent six City
people down to Court to handle me.
I and my friends are women who work for the dignity
of women and an increase in their power over their own lives. Now does
that makes us feminists, or grrls? Personally, I'm too busy to worry about
But anybody who thinks feminism is dead, isn't paying
to this point on my page and asked my sweetheart Wes, "What other political
subjects have I expressed an opinion on lately?" He looked at me and said,
"You're always expressing an opinion." Some things I
have already created a page for are mental
health rights and homelessness. My opinions are
also brazenly woven into my book reviews at Active Books.
only conspiracy theory that I completely agree with is, "The paranoids
are out to get us all." However, when a lot of people
share similar motivations and circumstances they can act in a close imitation
of a conspiracy. This explains the rise of corporate power, the world-wide
wave of repressive anti-poor legislation, and the rise of grassroots
When capital is allowed to pool in large amounts
in limited areas it distorts the fabric of society. I also don't know
of any way to redistribute wealth that doesn't involve narrow-minded people
acting morally superior and giving other people hell. I think we have
to find a way, within a few more years, or we are in for violence.
Right here in River City, folks, Trouble with a capital T. More links on Corporate Welfare
Words are defined by the way they are used. The
working definition of a cult is, "A bunch of people who believe strongly
in something that I don't." My grandfather believed that Roman Catholics
stockpiled weapons in their basements in preparation for the Pope's call
to rise and take over the country. Twenty-five years ago most people I
knew considered Bahai's to be dangerous mind-washing cultists -- they
are now quite respectable. I have personally studied Scientology, Mormonism,
Nichiren-Shoshu Buddism, and Hare Krishna, and all four have respected
my freedom of thought much more than friends who learned what I was studying
and wanted to protect me from myself.
The more faith you have in your own beliefs, the
easier you feel about other people expressing theirs. If you know reality,
then they are inevitably going to discover it, aren't they?
In a world of many cultures and religions, drawing
constantly closer with modern communications, more economically interknit,
and more vulnerable to new weapons every day, tolerance is no longer an
option -- it is a necessity. We must learn how to express our own opinions
and let other people express theirs at the same time, peacefully.
Start practicing. ReligiousFreedom.org
speech is a rock-bottom necessity for a free society. Advocating hate
and violence is not free speech -- it is a crime. Tolerating hate-advocates
in the name of "free speech" is suicide.
This is a tough and controversial question,
and it ought to be. It should never become easy to decide that we will
not let someone broadcast on our airwaves, be published in our magazine,
or speak on our stage. But to say "yes" to one thing usually means saying
"no" to something else. If you are in favor of human dignity for all
people, and the value of human life, then you cannot condone people
who advocate killing "lesser races," or any other of our multiple social
Free Speech Campaign
is occasionally necessary -- in self-defense or defense of our loved
ones, for instance. War is occasionally necessary -- I still think Hitler
had to be stopped.
But war and violence are such easy options that
if there is not strong opposition to their use, challenge and questioning
and self-questioning, they get used increasingly often.
Many wars are wrong. The Vietnam war was wrong.
But it is also shameful to mistreat the veterans who returned from that
war -- or to ignore those who never returned.