There’s Something Happening Here

The western world appears to be on the brink of something really important happening. After witnessing so many people from different countries creating meaningful change in their lives through courage, protest and persistence, it would seem that the rest of us are waking up to our corporatized lives and not liking what we are seeing. After all, if the Egyptians can oust Hosni Mubarak then what could we do if tried?

Over the last 20 years the American middle class has been steadily eroded. Peoples’ dreams of working hard and getting ahead are completely gone; they have evaporated in the pursuit of corporate profits. This is why we no longer have well paying, union jobs in North America. After all, if the shareholders aren’t happy and don’t get a bigger dividend every year heads will roll.

The American government (and to some extent the same is true here) is completely out of touch with what is actually going on in America today. If the rich and the corporations don’t have to pay taxes that leaves just working Americans to shoulder the tax burden. As wages have declined and the cost of living has risen, there is no longer money left for discretionary spending. Hell, for many Americans there is nothing left; they have lost their house, their cars and most of all their pride in being American.

So here’s the thing: if you’ve got nothing to lose you might be prepared to do things you might not normally do. Desperation pushes people out of their comfort zones and forces them to grapple for solutions. Of course I am referring to the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ protests. If you go here, there is actually footage of people drinking champagne above the protesters on Wall Street. Can you say out of touch?

It is my fervent hope that in fact something is going on here. Rioting youth in England and protesters in the United States are all pointing to the same thing. We have governments, which are completely out of touch with their citizenry. We have corporations in control in Canada, the US and Europe. We are all slaves to the mighty profit whether we benefit from it or not. When you take things away from people they will tolerate it for a while but there will come a time when you have taken so much away that they have nothing to lose. And people with nothing to lose are very powerful – just ask Hosni Mubarak.

There’s Something Happening Here

Buffalo Springfield

There’s something happening here
What it is ain’t exactly clear
There’s a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware

I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down

There’s battle lines being drawn
Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong
Young people speaking their minds
Getting so much resistance from behind

I think it’s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down

What a field-day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly say, hooray for our side

It’s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down

Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you’re always afraid
You step out of line, the man come and take you away

We better stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down
Stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down
Stop, now, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down
Stop, children, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down

The 2011 Federal Election

I have a confession to make: I love politics[1] and I love elections! Ever since I was a child I was engaged in politics. When my stepfather came into my life, I had a worthy opponent to debate politics. He was a staunch conservative[2] who voted Progressive Conservative[3] and then Reform. I always loved the NDP. I remember hearing Dave Barrett speak at a leadership convention and what he said resonated with me. As a person who has always had an overly developed sense of fairness the NDP just made sense to me. At least 3-4 times a week dinner was a political debate between us. My mother and sister would complain very loudly as they hated it. My sister really didn’t get it and my mother would get emotional. I thrived on it.

When I started university and changed my original goal of going into psychology[4], I fell back to my first passion, which was political science. After a semester of taking 2 political science courses I realized that history[5] was extremely important in understanding where we are at politically. So the natural fit for me at school was political history. I love just about any kind of politics.

I was watching the news earlier today and they were talking to people to about their thoughts on the election. What struck me was that everyone single person was complaining about the upcoming election.[6] This is the wonderful thing about parliamentary democracy and in particular a minority parliament. The Opposition parties did not table a motion of non-confidence without major issues. Or in other words, the motion of non-confidence was not frivolous. The Harper government has been found in contempt of parliament for not supplying proper documentation on the cost of the proposed crime legislation, the cost of F-35 fighter jets and corporate tax cuts. This is the first time any government in the Commonwealth has been found in contempt of parliament. In addition to the contempt of parliament charge is the odious acts of disrespect of Bev Oda. If the government cannot provide basic information on such important issues how can we expect full information on the budget?

This is the beauty of a minority parliament, the opposition parties can hold the government accountable for their behaviour. Nothing like this process exists in the American system. Americans are stuck with whomever they elect for 2 or 4 or 6 years depending on the position.[7] In the absence of majority governments, the threat of frequent elections is always there. However, I would argue that minority government is better government. The constant threat of votes of non-confidence ensures that the government has to be more aware and cognizant of the policy directions of other parties. When you get a prime minister like Harper how does not work and play well with others you have to expect a lot of problems.

I think we should be grateful for the upcoming election. It gives us a chance to try move forward. If we are to look at history, the closest time period that resembles the current federal situation was the Diefenbaker-Pearson years. There were several elections starting in the late 1950s up until Trudeau was elected in 1968. What finally broke that cycle of minority parliaments was a new, charismatic leader in Pierre Trudeau. Given that we have not seen a change in leadership in any of the parties to galvanize support for one party over another.

Barring any major gaffes or game-changing moments we will likely have another minority parliament. I am not going to predict party at this point, as it is far too early in the election. One of the things that is going to come up is strategic voting. I will likely post more about this option, as we get closer to voting day. My only wish is that people would be more grateful for the right to vote in real democratic elections. Just look at the events in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya if you have any question about what having a franchise means. Just remember voting is a right and an obligation.

[1] In Alberta we used to have 2 days of school for the ‘Teachers’ Convention.’ I remember watching the Watergate hearings at about age 7 glued to the TV. Can you say GEEK?!?

[2] Not to be confused with the Conservative party.

[3] Again, not to be confused with the Stephen Harper Conservatives, which is a conglomerate of the former, Progressive Conservative Party and the Canadian Alliance (which was born of the Reform Party).

[4] I wanted to get a doctorate in psychology except for one minor problem: I hated it! Seriously, hated it. Twenty minutes into the first lecture, I realized how much I hated it.

[5] When I sat through my first history class, I had the opposite reaction to the one I had with psychology. I felt completely at home.

[6] My suspicion was that they must have been in a Conservative riding.

[7] Members of the House of Representatives are elected every 2 years, presidents every 4 years and senators every 6 years. Interestingly, as the head of both the executive and legislative parts of governments, prime ministers have more power than American presidents.

Why does it matter?

Today on BC Almanac, Mark Forsyth was interviewing an historian. Being one myself my ears always perk up. This woman was talking about a female immigrant to Canada who walked great distances. I didn’t quite catch all of the information but it is not really germane to my issue. As this historian was describing her subject she stated that we have a picture of her so we know she was thin and attractive. I was shocked.

What does her physical appearance have to do with her accomplishments? This focus on appearance as a measure of a woman’s value is the root of all that is wrong with how women are treated in our society. Women are judged, even by other women, on how they look. It does not matter how accomplished we are or what we achieve it is only valid if we are thin and attractive.

This can be taken a step further without too much difficulty. If thin and attractive women are valued more than those women who are not what is the likely outcome? Women who do not meet expectations of thinness and attractiveness can have many problems in our society. These problems can stem from finding a mate, to employment even to credibility when reporting rapes. The focus on outward appearance and its presence in the popular discourse endorses the expectation that is ok to judge women this way.

As an historian, I bristle at the presentism in this historian’s work. It is a faux pas within the discipline of history to apply the values of today to the past. Certainly in the 1800s women were not judged on appearance to the same degree they are today. Women in rugged British Columbia needed to be strong and resourceful. They needed to be able to endure hard winters and work all summer to prepare. Women who were on their own for whatever reason had to look after themselves as there was no social safety net. In fact, the woman she was talking about had walked all the way from the lower mainland to Prince George. She was clearly a survivor and able to look after herself.

Personally, I am sick to death of this stuff. We need to start questioning this focus on the appearance of women as it is this that allows women to be commodities. As women, we must stop judging each other on appearance. We need to change the discourse. Talking about women in positive ways, focusing on accomplishments and personality rather than dress and bra size. Women together are a strong and powerful group. Let’s use our power and see if we can cause change.

25 Random Things About Me!

A new facebook meme has been floating around: 25 random things about me. I thought I would post it here instead.

1. First up – I am adopted. I was about 6 weeks old at the time.
2. I was born in Calgary. Many people living in Calgary are not from there.
3. I did the Katimavik program when I was 18. I went to Newfoundland to build a log cabin. We lived in tents for 3 months. I spent 3 month in Toronto and Baie St. Paul Quebec. It was the best thing I ever did. It taught me to finish something.
4. I played the accordion until I was 12. I hated it. It was uncool and heavy. My brother had to play it too. We all played it because my mother did. By the time my sister was ready for music lessons she got to play the organ because my mother had changed to that instrument.
5. I had a bit of a wild childhood. I won’t go into details but suffice it to say I did a lot of bad things, ran away from home and spent time in group homes. I will also say that my behaviour was caused by things that happened earlier in my childhood.
6. As a result of my childhood I spent my university undergrad in therapy.
7. I completed an honours BA in history from the University of Calgary in 1994.
8. I then went to Queen’s for my MA still in history. Which I finished in the fall of 1995.
9. My biggest academic achievement, in addition to my Queen’s scholarship, was being selected as 1 of 2 students to attend a conference put on by the Centre for the Study of the Presidency. The students selected were the ones who got the highest grades in an American political science course. Ironically it was 2 history students who earned this honour much to the chagrin of the political science students.
10. I knew I was a lesbian from a young child. I was sure I would not get married to a man. I hoped that I could be with a woman.
11. I am a television addict. I especially love reality shows like Survivor and the Amazing Race.
12. We moved to BC in 1999 – December to be exact. Only a couple of days before Y2K.
13. It was so creepy when we moved here. We started off in Burnaby. It was foggy for 3 weeks solid. We were pretty sure we had moved to a very strange place. The last decade here has pretty much borne this out.
14. I have been with my partner Deb for 12 years. We have been married for 7. We got married right after the court decision that made it legal but before the legislation hit. We hoped to increase the numbers of couples who had married in that time so that the government would have a harder time reversing them. Thankfully this never happened and we have remained happily and legally married for the whole time.
15. I have lived with dogs almost my whole life. I cannot imagine my life without a dog or several dogs.  I relate best to little dogs. If I can’t have a dog I don’t want to live.
16. I love computers.
17. My first computer was a Mac Plus. I then switched to PCs for almost 20 years.
18. Approximately a year ago, I switched back to Macs. I couldn’t be happier!
19. I have an interesting almost intuitive relationship with computers.
20. I end up being tech support every where I go. Sometimes I just walk into the room to fix a computer and it suddenly resolves. I cannot explain this but it has happened more times than I can count.
21. I love computer games. I have been known to spend days playing Civilization, Colonization and SimCity.
22. I love music. Listening to music has kept me sane since I was about 8 and I got my first record player with a radio.
23. As a teenager my favourite bands were Fleetwood Mac (Rumours) and Supertramp (Crime of the Century).
24. As an adult, I have continued my relationship with music. I have very diverse tastes that include Richard Shindell, Tori Amos, REM, Sinead O’Connor along with many other artists. Most recent addition: Lady Gaga!
25. I have been blogging since August 8, 2007. I have been trying to blog for every day of 2010. I have forgotten two days I think. Not bad!