Polswatch

Outlining a Progressive Future

Should We Abolish Sex Descrimination from Sport?

At the start of 2009 Caster Semenya was virtually unknown. Now, she is one of the most famous athletes in the world, not only due to great running, but also her identity. After her victory in the World Championships, Semenya was forced to take ‘gender tests’, which after being leaked revealed that she is intersex. This has created a huge debate over the rights on intersex people and has led many to ask the question ‘what is the use of the sex binary in sport?’

The justifications for the sex binary in sport range from the idea that women cannot deal with the aggressiveness of men in competition to that sex discrimination is no different than ‘weight classes’ due to inherently different abilities that women have compared to men[1]. Sex discrimination is justified through the idea of ‘fairness in competition’.

However, this is extremely problematic. Firstly, it leaves out people such as Caster Semenya, who don’t fit into the set sex binary. Semenya, and other intersex people, expose the myth that there are only two biological sexes. There is actually significant diversity among humans in sex definers such as genitals, reproductive organs, chromosomes, and hormones. The rigid male/female sex binary does not fit the reality of sex and gender diversity. This leaves intersex athletes with the options of either giving up competition or undergoing intrusive medical procedures to ‘correct’ the issue. Second to this, sex discrimination in sport perpetuates the image of men as being ‘more athletic’, ‘stronger’, ‘faster’ and better in a whole range of ways than women. This greatly enhances the societal image of women as being ‘the weaker sex’.

But isn’t this true? Aren’t females in general not as strong as males and therefore not able to compete as well in sports?  There are two problems with this idea. First, even though testosterone does advance muscular growth (and only when work is involved), its levels differ naturally within all people, leaving many with different physiques than what is expected from a member of their sex. A general separation based on a sex binary, therefore ignores many of the physical differences that exist within all sexes (something that separation based on factors such as weight or height would not do).

Second to this, even if males are in general ‘stronger’ than females, this does not mean that they are more athletic. Strength should be just one element in the definition of skill in sporting competition, something that current sporting competition forgets. Too much emphasis is now placed on strength in sport (e.g. the increasing role of a strong serves in tennis), perpetuating the image of females as being ‘less athletic’ by focusing athleticism around a predominately male attribute.

The stereotype of the weaker ‘sex’ is a prevalent and destructive one. To remove it we must remove sex discrimination in sport and allow people of all sexes to compete freely using an array of skills as the tester of athleticism. We can no longer accept the image of women as being the ‘weaker, less athletic sex’ or an imaginary binary determining what athleticism is. Removing sex separation and discrimination in sport would be more inclusive for intersex athletes, and address sexist attitudes to women. If we really want to create ‘fairer competition’ we must stop assuming someone isn’t good enough because they don’t have a pair of testicles and focus on people’s actual skills instead.


[1] Tannsjo, T (2000) Against Sexual Discrimination in Sports in Tannsjo, T & Tamburrini, C (eds.) (2000) Values in Sport. E & FN Spon, London

November 19, 2009 Posted by | Analysing the Left, Human Rights, Options for a Progressive Future | Leave a comment

Is Obama Scared of Tacking Action On Queer Rights?

Alongside healthcare is was pinned as one of the key issues that created chaos for Bill Clinton in his first years, lead to the rise of the right and the eventual Democratic defeat in the 1994 mid-term elections. The issue was allowing queer people to serve in the military; a debate that lead to the development of the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy, which allows queer people to serve, but not openly. Now, in 2009, Barack Obama seems to be scared that if he tackles the same issue head on, along with many others important to the queer rights movement, he will also succumb to the same fate of Clinton in the 90’s.

Obama has always had good rhetoric regarding queer rights. Throughout his campaign and presidency he has promised action on a majority of the key issues on the queer agenda, including repealing the two most controversial queer policies; the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy and the Defence of Marriage Act (DOMA) (which federally defines marriage being between a man and a woman and allows states to refuse to recognise same-sex marriages performed elsewhere). Obama has also agreed to sign laws that will enhance hate-crimes legislation, ensure queer adoption rights and outlaw discrimination in the workplace. However, in the first six months of his presidential tenure very little work has been done on achieving these key issues. Not only has there been no legislative action on any of these items (except hate crimes legislation), Obama has also caused frustration through refusing to sign an executive order halting the enforcement of the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy until it is officially overturned. This leaves open the question, is Obama just talk on queer rights or is he scared that tackling the issue will cause him political problems?

Whilst there are probably a number of reasons for Obama’s inaction, it seems almost certain that the biggest thing holding him back is a fear of a similar backlash to what Clinton received. Although Obama has been positive about queer rights, he often does so in a hidden manner, leaving positive actions largely unannounced and speeches to queer activists out of sight from the media. In other words, Obama is attempting to give the queer community exactly what it wants, but is attempting to do so in a way that won’t outrage his conservative adversaries (who he believes could make a political issue out of it).

Obviously, this is having a number of effects. First and foremost it is now delaying the attainment of extra rights for queer people. Second, and possibly more damagingly, it sends a clear message that discussing queer rights and taking positive action in a strong manner is still a difficult area for progressive politicians, therefore leaving others cautious about taking positive action in the future. By not standing up and fighting loudly for these rights Obama is saying that it is still okay for there to be an opposition to queer rights and is making this opposition legitimate, in turn creating further equality problems in the future. Last, As long as Obama continues to delay, he will be making it harder for him to make the changes as required. With political landscapes changing quickly, opportunities to change policies can often be lost quickly and as long as Obama continues to delay he will make it harder for these policies to be changed. It is therefore important that continued pressure is placed on the Obama administration to affect these changes sooner rather than later, before it becomes too late.

For more information on these issues and to help place pressure on Obama to take action you can visit the Human Rights Campaign at www.hrc.org

The Courage Campaign (http://www.couragecampaign.org), which is a California based campaign is also doing a lot of work on queer rights, with a special focus on overturning proposition 8 and the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy.

July 19, 2009 Posted by | Analysing the Left, Human Rights, Monitering the Left | , , | Leave a comment

Is Fremantle a Sign of Things to Come?

On Saturday the 16th of May the Australian Greens made history by winning their first lower house seat in any state or territory parliament (after winning the federal seat of Cunningham in 2002) and by winning the primary vote in an election for the first time ever. The Greens won the seat of Fremantle by outpolling the Labor Party by a 45-38% margin on primary votes and won the seat by 54-46% after preferences were distributed, sending Adele Carles into the Western Australian legislative assembly. With this victory under their belt the Greens are now turning their focus onto federal lower house seats, arguing that if the current trend continues federal seats such as Melbourne, Sydney, Grayndler and Fremantle will soon fall into Green hands. This is being followed by a number of analysts and political commentators who are now questioning whether the Greens have the ability to permanently break up the two party system in Australia.

Third parties in Australia have a history of falling. The Democrats, arguably the most influential third party in Australia’s history, collapsed dramatically in the last two federal elections raising serious questions about whether the two party system will ever be broken in Australia. Whilst theories around why the Democrats collapsed as they did are still debated, there is no doubt that their collapsed has raised serious questions about the ability of a third party to survive in the Australian system. However, the continued growth of the Greens since Bob Brown was first elected in 1996 and the extremely strong showings of the party since the 2007 election, in which they recorded over 1 million votes, are placing the Greens in a position to break down the two party system in Australia. Whilst many may be sceptical of the ability of the Greens or any other party to break down this systems the Greens are in an extremely unique position with many positive aspects that favour the possibilities of them to do so.    

There are five key factors behind why I believe the Greens will continue to grow in the future:

  1. Having a Strong Base: Unlike the Democrats who had no real natural base (being focused on those who were dissatisfied with the major parties), the Greens have a strong base, not only with the environmental movement but with the left as a whole. Whilst the Greens obviously began as a party based around the environment movement, a mix of hard work by Greens MPs on other issues as well as the general rightward shift in Australian politics (see below) has allowed the Greens to take the mantle of the only true ‘left’ party in the country. This gives the Greens a very strong base that continues to grow as the party continues to convince those in the left that they are not just about the environment. This ensures that as long as the Greens stat true to their ideals that they will have a continued base of support that will ensure continued parliamentary representation.  
  2. The Continued Rightward Trend of the ALP: Second to this, the Greens are also benefiting from the continued rightward shift of the ALP. There is no doubt that the ALP is upsetting many of those on the left who have traditionally voted for them as they continue to pursue or refuse to reverse many of the right wing policies introduced by the Liberal Party. The Greens are benefiting from this as they are being seen as the only real ‘left’ wing alternative. Whilst some may claim that this is just a sign of a ‘protest vote’ against the ALP that will eventually collapse,  it seems very unlikely that the ALP will return to its left wing beginnings any time soon, meaning that this ‘protest vote’ is likely to continue to solidify.
  3. A Desire to Govern: Unlike the Democrats, who biggest focus was on ‘keeping the bastards honest’, the Greens have a focus on creating a party that is strong enough to govern, not just to be in the balance of power. This is important as it puts the Greens in a position where they are seen to be more proactive in their role in parliament rather than being reactive to the major parties. This proactive nature of the party tends to create greater support within the public over the reactive nature that occurs when one is focused on balance of power situations.
  4. Having a Large and Extremely Democratic Membership: Somewhat unlike the Democrats, the Greens have a very large and democratic membership. The parties’ membership currently sits around 10,000 and is growing. This is important as it provides the party both a strong contingent to work and campaign for the party, as well as a large number of people who can be trained and recruited to run for office.
  5. Having Strong Roots in Local Government: In all states across Australia the Greens have strong roots and have campaigned hard for local government positions and hold many of these positions, especially in New South Wales and Victoria. Fighting for these positions has been a very important tactical move by the Greens for two reasons. Firstly, it has provided much needed training for Greens members in governance, which provides great opportunities for such members to advance to state and federal government. A large number of candidates in past elections have come from the local level and I suspect this trend will continue in the future. Secondly, having members in local councils provide members of the public a real and local experience with Greens politicians. This is important as it allows the scepticism some have of the Greens to be dashed when they see the real benefits provided by having Greens in Government.  

 These five factors put the Greens in a very good position to break down the two party system in Australia and continue to grow as a party in local, state and federal parliaments. The Greens are surging and unless major unforeseen circumstances occur in the future it seems very unlikely that this surge will end any time soon, leaving the party in a position to create real influence in all levels of parliament and grow to become the most influential third party Australia has seen.

May 22, 2009 Posted by | Analysing the Left, Democracy and the State, Monitering the Left | , , , , , | 14 Comments

Where is the Left At? – United States

After discussing the left in Australia I now turn towards the United States and have a look at where I see the left stands in one of the most influential countries in the world. The left is definitely on the rise in the United States and is growing stronger every year. Both in legislative and issue based politics it is clear that the left is gaining strength and will continue to do so in the future.

Legislative

Unlike Australia where the left is split between two parties in the country, the left in the United States almost solely focuses its efforts into the Democratic Party. This is due to the extremely strong two party nature of the American system and although parties such as the Greens and other minor left parties are growing slightly, they still have very little influence beyond local elections. This is unfortunately likely to continue to occur as it is extremely unlikely that we will see a change in the American political system that would provide more opportunities for third parties. Therefore, in legislative matters one can measure the current success of the left through (a) looking at the success of the Democratic Party and (b) looking at how left the Democrats have become.

The Democratic Party: The Democrats are currently probably stronger than they have been since the 1960s. The party currently holds control over the Presidency, the Senate (by 18 seats), the House of Representatives (by 79 seats), the majority of state legislatures and the majority of governorships (28-22). With many problems with Senate and Gubernatorial races and a growing approval rate of the Congress in the United States it seems unlikely that this trend will change in the 2010 elections and it is even possible that the Democrats will increase their legislative majorities.

However, having the Democrats in power across the United States does not necessarily mean that the US is a ‘left wing’ country. Just like the Labor Party in Australia there are large and continuing battles within the Democrats between the right and left wing factions of the party. Although the right factions of the Democrats are nowhere near as right wing as their conservative counterparts in the Republicans, they are still far to the right of what the left wants in the Party. So, going beyond asking the question of how the Democratic Party is doing in the United States, one must look at how the left is doing in the Democratic Party. This is an issue that is a lot harder to investigate (as one must have a better knowledge of the respective members in the party); however there are definitely encouraging signs:

  1. The party has definitely moved far away from some of its extremely conservative roots (based around the South in early and mid 20th Century) and has pretty much shed the majority of the extreme conservatives from its membership.
  2. Some of the lefter members of the party are now reaching much higher positions than in the past. For example, whilst leadership positions used to be reserved for conservatives from the South, the leadership in the House of Representatives now consists of Nancy Pelosi and Barney Frank; two who are both considered to be in the left ‘faction’ of the party.
  3. Candidates who are further to the right in the party are now finding it more difficult to get a hold within the parties structure and are being shunned somewhat. One only needs to look at the rise of Kirstin Gillibrand to the New York Senate and the many promises that a primary challenge (which would most likely succeed) after it occurred as evidence of this.

However, this does not necessarily mean that US legislators are just as left as their left counterparts around the world as due to the historic right wing nature of American Politics, the left wing in the United States is still not as left as is seen by left wing parties in other parts of the world.

However, it is clear that the US and the Democrats have taken a left turn in the past 5 or so years and the question then must be, do the American people like and accept this lefter turn from the party? One must assume that with the massive victories of the Democrats, which have been created by these ‘lefter’ candidates, over the past two election cycles and the probably victories in 2010 that the answer to this is a yes. With increasing Democratic Registrations, along with decreasing Republican ones and an increasing number of people identifying themselves as ‘liberal’ or ‘extremely liberal’ it is clear that people are becoming more accepting of the left movement. Why and how this has happened is definitely a topic for another post. However, what is certain about this is that it is creating a stronger acceptance of such left shifts as health care reform, gay and women’s rights reform, climate change action etc. Although many of these such reforms have been attempted by Democrats in the past (i.e. Bill Clinton and health care), with the much stronger left wing presence in the house and senate at the moment such reforms are much more likely at the current time.  

Moving Beyond the Legislature

Of course, the left does not just exist within the halls of the legislature and the party room and the different left movements that exist around the country definitely require some mention. Just like the rest of the world, the left pressure movement in the US can be separated into broader umbrella groups and more issue focused groups. On the broader scale one can look at organisations such as MoveOn.org  as probably the strongest and largest growing left wing political pressure group in the country. Regarding information based sites; the numbers of left blog sites in the United States is huge, with site such as The Daily Kos, providing a great example of how these sites can continue to push left thought. It is interesting to note that just like GetUp in Australia, these groups are benefiting greatly through their use of the internet, an issue that continue to plague the right in the United States.

On the issue based politics, one can definitely see major continued growth occurring in the climate, gay rights, women’s, union, immigration and many other left based movements within the United States. Many of these movements are now seeing major victories in the country(for example gay marriage victories in a number of states and the first substantial climate based legislation being introduced into Congress in the past weeks) after what has been some very difficult years for these movements. However, just like the rest of the world there is the continued question of how to bring these movements together to provide a stronger and more united left wing movement. This is not something that I have time to go into on this post however.

I hope this has given a good overview, although very brief, of where the left is positioned in the United States at the moment. I appreciate that I will have left a lot of things out of this post, but will hope to begin filling in these gaps in the future as I continue to discuss the forward movement of the left in the United States.  

April 25, 2009 Posted by | Analysing the Left | , , , | Leave a comment

A One Child Policy for Australia?

 

Ex-Democrat MP for South Australia has recently called for the implementation of policies similar to a one-child policy for Australia (through having such things as paid maternity leave and the baby bonus only be available for a woman’s first child). Sandra Kanck, who now heads the group ‘Sustainable Population Australia’ has argued that such a policy is important to reduce the strain on Australia’s resources.

Calls such as this show how dangerous discussion on ‘sustainable populations’ can be when targeted at people’s rights to have children. Having a one child policy in Australia would do no good for the country and would simply create a large amount of social harm. The problems around such a policy are many:

  1. It takes away people’s rights: I strongly believe in the right for one to practice their desired sexual experiences as they wish (as long as consent is provided by all parties) and believe that having children is a part of this experience. I therefore have serious problems with stopping people from having children as I see it as a fundamental removal of one’s sexual rights.
  2. It isn’t needed: Nearly any study in Australia will show you that birth rates are dropping dramatically in the country as young people move away from having a desire to have children. Whilst this isn’t going to create a drop in population at the moment (as death rates are also dropping) in the future it will. This will be an issue for Australia as a smaller young population is required to support the growing older population. No one quite knows how this will work with the current population, but the introduction of a one child policy would only make things worse.
  3. It creates social harm and doesn’t work: If China’s one child policy has done any good, it has been to show us how bad one child policies are. Whilst I cannot predict the sort of problems a child policy or similar in Australia would lead too I can bet that serious problems would begin to occur. Taking away ones right to have children is a huge experiment for a society, which experience has shown will create serious harm. I don’t want this to be an experiment Australia makes.  
  4. It’s not the answer: Most evidence will tell you that if you want to drop population rates all you need to do is create effective family planning measures within a society. Australia has these measures and it is for that reason that we are seeing drops in our birth rates. Adding one child policies on top of these effective methods simply adds a draconian measure that creates a large amount of harm with very little benefit. If we are and ‘Sustainable Population Australia’ are serious are population reduction we should be investing more into effective family planning measures in areas where they are unavailable, which is where we currently see huge growth in populations.

I hope to see Australia and most importantly the environment movement in Australia distance itself from such calls from ‘Sustainable Population Australia’. The solution to the environmental crisis is not to stop people from having children, but rather:

  1.  To invest in family planning for areas where birth rates are growing and
  2.  To invest properly in sustainable policies, such as clean energy and water efficient measures.

‘Sustainable Population Australia’ should be advised that targeting the rights of people to have children is not only draconian but is simply stupid and if they want to create a ‘sustainable population’ it would be much better for them to look at policies that both work and hold onto people’s rights.   

For a more detailed discussion on these issues check out my previous post on ‘The Politics of Population’

April 22, 2009 Posted by | Analysing the Left, Climate Change and the Environment, Human Rights | , , , | 5 Comments

Where is the Left At? – Australia

As part of this blog I am aiming to provide some analysis of the left wing movement and some monitoring on how the left is progressing as a movement. Although I undoubtedly will be unable to cover all aspects of the left around the world, I think this will provide some information as well as topics for debate about the left. In order to start this discussion I will be providing some brief overviews of where the left is situated in different parts of the world (starting with Australia, the US and Europe and then moving to other parts as I read and learn more). I will aim to discuss both the left as legislators as well as the left as ‘movers’ in societies and will discuss what I consider to be the main areas of movement in each place. I will this discussion by looking at Australia.

Legislative

After the election of the Kevin Rudd lead Labor Government in 2007 the left is finding itself in a difficult position. Although the policies of the Labor Party are better than those of the previous government, the party is certainly living up to its standards of being more right wing in government than in opposition and are simply not providing many of the sweeping changes demanded by the left in the country. This is leaving the left movement in a difficult situation where it must decide whether it continues to fight for a left wing agenda within the Labor Party or to turn to a different alternative. At the present time those who are arguing for a shift to a new alternative are pointing to the Greens as the possible answer. The arguments behind these two different movements are relatively simple:

Sticking with Labor: Those who advocate sticking with Labor argue that at the current time we are not likely to see any other party become strong enough to win government in Australia and we therefore must place all out efforts into turning the Labor Party into a true left party. Advocates of this movement argue for left wingers to join the party and fight within it to shift it away from the right.

Shifting to the Greens: Those who advocate for a shift towards the Greens argue that the fight to turn Labor into a real left wing party has been going on for a long time with no results. We therefore, it is argued, must look towards a different alternative. With a growing base the Greens are gaining influence all around the country (sitting in every legislature except QLD and NT) and seem like they will continue to grow in the future. It is argued therefore that the Greens do provide a real alternative for the left that could easily gain much more influence with more support, eliminating the need for the left to deal with the Labor Party.

A Middle Ground?

Although I am a member of the Greens I actually advocate somewhat of a middle ground on this issue at the moment. Although I believe we are never going to see the Labor Party turn into a proper left wing party based around the Labor movement and therefore see the need for an alternative, I also believe we need to continue to fight for more left wing policies within the Labor Party, especially given that it is in Government at the moment. It is here that I see the importance of movements such as GetUp in exercising their ability to influence both public thought and the Government to at least rethink some of their right wing policies. Ensuring this pressure continues also helps the growth of the left in general as well as the Greens as it adds to the general acceptance of the left by the public, who then become more inclined to vote for left candidates.

Outside the Parliament

Of course the left wing movement isn’t just based around parliament house and there is a huge amount of other areas where the left is having an important influence. Whether it be through student politics, unions or local climate groups people on the left are actively participating in the political world to affect the change we need. I think we can see the left do this through two different ways:

1.       Broad Umbrella Groups: The biggest of these is obviously GetUp, who is fighting in my opinion on a broad left wing agenda on a range of different issues. GetUp is doing this mostly and very skilfully through the internet, which is creating great opportunities for the left movement.

2.       Issue Based Groups: Whether it be the environment movement, the union movement, the women’s movement or a large number of other movements around Australia a large percentage of those involved in the left are active in particular issue based groups (this obviously happens on the right as well). Many of these groups are growing in Australia (we are now seeing positive growth in unions, growth in climate movements etc.) and are continuing to greatly influence public debate on particular issues.

Bringing the movements together

As with other left movements around the world I think one of the biggest challenges the left faces in Australia is how to bring everyone together. Whether it be bringing those who argue for the Labor Party or the Greens or those who are focused on one of the many campaigns around the country, the left needs to continue to work to come together to solidify as one movement (obviously with many aims that people can focus on). I think this is occurring in the country (with the growth of such organisations as GetUp), but will continue to argue that more needs to be done. I cannot provide the answers for this at the moment but will rather leave it as a thinking point for future discussion.

This has been a very brief discussion on my perspective of the left wing movement in Australia and one that I hope to add to in future posts. I would be interested to hear what other people think about this and the ideas of where the left sits at the moment. Whilst it is hard to pin down where a movement is at I think it is useful so we can see where it needs to go.

April 19, 2009 Posted by | Analysing the Left, Monitering the Left | , | Leave a comment

Same Sex Marriage Allowed in Iowa, But There is Still Far to Go

The Supreme Court of Iowa has ruled this week that legislation banning gay marriage in the state is unconstitutional and has therefore ruled to allow gay marriage there. The ruling was based upon the ‘equal rights’ clause of the constitution, which stipulates that all people within the state should be treated equally under the law.

The ruling comes as the gay rights movement in the United States grows stronger and stronger, with three states now allowing gay marriage (Massachusetts, Connecticut and Iowa), all of which have come through court decisions. Vermont is now the first state that is considering same-sex marriage legislation (http://www.facebook.com/ext/share.php?sid=60530954005&h=oXyVa&u=Bs4-T.

These moves come as the gay rights movement grows throughout the world both within states (including Australia, the United States and many European states) where gay marriage is the last legal hurdle for equal recognition and in states where basic rights are still not available (http://www.facebook.com/ext/share.php?sid=68639871521&h=8H_Y2&u=KmRur

However, at the same time, one must question how far same-sex rights have come and strong this movement is. At the present time there is no state within the United States that has seen same-sex marriage legalised through either a popular or legislative vote (although Vermont looks as though it will do so), whilst a large number of states have actively banned the act (California’s proposition 8 in 2008 being the most publicised), and given conservative governments it seems difficult to see that same sex marriage will be legalised in states such as Australia any time soon. On top of this, reports of discrimination and difficulties for same-sex oriented people are still very high, with same-sex oriented youth still experiencing the highest level of suicide within countries such as Australia. This to me shows that the gay rights movement still has a long way to go, not only through gaining legal recognition, but also through eliminating discrimination and stigma in the community.

The question then must be asked, can the movement achieve these goals? It seems almost inevitable now that achieving universal same-sex marriage legislation within Western countries will occur soon. In the United States I predict that this will unfortunately probably occur through a ruling of the United States Supreme Court (once the next conservative judge retires and is hopefully replaced by a Democratic President, therefore tipping the balance in favour of liberals), based around the equal rights clause of the US constitution, which will place a huge amount of pressure on states such as Australia to follow suit. Many European states (such as Sweden) look as though they will allow the act soon, due to internal and international (from other European states) pressure.

Regarding court ruling I say ‘unfortunately’ as such a ruling in my mind would not add to public acceptance of same-sex oriented people and would do very little to end non-legal discrimination. I believe that through focusing on court battles, the United States gay rights movement has done itself a disservice as funds have been moved away from public campaigns aimed at increasing tolerance and removing stigma. This has ensured that the conservatives within the United States have had a large proportion of the air-time, ensuring that stigma and discrimination is still very strong in the country. Therefore, whilst legal battles have been won, gains are still greatly needed in public acceptance and discrimination campaigns. It is for this reason that I believe that the gay-rights movement in California would be better served through another vote on the issue (for those of you who don’t know the US has a very different situation, where through a public ballot, legislation can be voted on by the people in a regular election) in 2010 (one that with good campaigning I believe they can win) than through having the change overturned in the courts.

In other countries we see similar sorts of problems. In Australia, although the acceptance of same-sex marriage is extremely high, I believe the gay rights movement is extremely weak. One could pin this down to a belief that constant campaigning would do very little given the politicians we have at the movement, whilst others may point to the lack of active engagement with the community from the movement. One only needs to look at how Mardi Gras has turned into more of a party than a political statement to see the weakening of the movement within the country.

Similar problems also exist within many European states, although one can point to a much longer and stronger movement within these states that have seen many nations adopt full same-sex rights, including same-sex marriage. Many still have to follow, which some are expected to do soon (Sweden in May, even though the conservatives are in power at the moment).

Where to from here?

The question then needs to be asked, where to from here? The basic answer in my mind is that the gay rights movement needs to start to better re-engage with the public to start changing people’s opinions and discrimination of queer people. This is a difficult task to do, but one that must happen. First steps could and should be actions such as taking the focus off court battles and more into public campaigns (including popular ballots in the United States). Although this may have a short term negative affect (with gay marriage being achieved later on), the long term affect of a greater public acceptance is great. In states such as Australia and in Europe, the gay rights movement needs to re-engage and re-invent itself to become more effective. This should include refusing to accept that changes will not occur and continuing with public campaigns to increase acceptance and reduce stigma.

Whilst we have come a long way, we have far to do. We need a strong movement to do that for us!

April 4, 2009 Posted by | Analysing the Left, Human Rights, Options for a Progressive Future | | 2 Comments

A Labour Sell Out?

Earlier this week the Israeli Labour Party voted to join a coalition with the right-wing Likud Party to form a new government in the aftermath of the 2009 elections. This vote occurred after weeks of debate within Labour as to whether joining such a coalition would see the party sell-out on its principles to retain a level of power in government or whether it would mean saving Israel from a narrow, right wing government that would seriously derail the peace process. Whilst there is no doubt that Labo(u)r Parties around the world have a good tradition of selling out on their apparent principles, there is a genuine question to ask as to whether the Israeli Labour Party did the right thing in Israel to stop four years of a ‘narrow right wing government’.

The best way to look at the situation facing Labour is to discuss the two different viewpoints presented by the opposite sides of the party.

1.)     It was pretty simple for many within the Labour Party that joining a Likud based coalition would be a sell-out in the Labour Parties principles that could seriously hurt the credibility of the party and its future prospects. It must be said that many on the left wing stick pretty strongly to their principles (and rightly so) and find it extremely difficult to even comprehend the idea of joining a party such as Likud in a coalition. The reasons behind this are obvious; as a left winger, one aims for the creation of a new and better society and joining a coalition with a party such as Likud means voting for policies that reverse all that one aims for. This is a fair feeling and one that cannot be ignored.

Secondly, and somewhat more interestingly for many in Labour was the thought that joining a Likud based coalition could damage the party in the future. As a party that’s based around the left wing labour movement in Israel it is understandable that many in the party now fear that joining Likud would repulse their voters  and force them to move away from the party. The logic behind that is clear – with every new right wing policy that Likud implements, left-wing voters may start to blame Labour and turn away from them, adding to the downfall of the once large party. Parallels can easily be drawn here with the Green Party in Ireland, who looks like they will suffer massive defeats at the next Irish election due to their continued support, through voting (but not in media etc.), of a government who has implemented many unpopular measures and un-green measures.

2.) The opposite side of the coin to this argument is one that states that instead of selling out on their principles; Labour has saved Israel from four years of an ultra-rightwing Government that would have set the peace process and the welfare of the Israeli people backwards by four years. Labour has pointed to the number of policy platforms that have been agreed upon by Likud when signing the coalition documents as proof that this agreement has saved Israel and Palestine from many disastrous policies. The problem with this argument is that is assumes that Lukid would have been able to form a government with other parties. It is quite clear the Likud and the other coalition partner Yisrael Beiteinu had many problems with the prospects of joining a coalition with the other right wing religious based parties. Given this, there was a good prospect that Likud may have failed to form another coalition, giving Kadima the option to form a coalition or forcing Israel to further elections. No one knows what this could have achieved, but some may argue that Labour has just provided four years of a Right Wing Government rather than saved Israel from it.

I think it is interesting to ask the question as to whether ‘selling out on ones principles’ is worth it to some level to save a people from four years of more right wing policies. In my mind there is no doubt that the new Netanyahu Government will be disastrous for both the Palestinian and Israeli people, but one needs to ask the question as to whether through joining Likud Labour has made things worse (through ensuring a ‘stable’ Likud government) or better (through changing the policies of the party who were destined to become the government). 

March 26, 2009 Posted by | Analysing the Left | , | 5 Comments

The Politics of Population

As an environmentalist I find myself regularly concerned with the way the environment movement, through organisations such as ‘Sustainable Population Australia’, is framing the discussion on population policies. As climate change and environmental degradation are becoming more real, environmentalists are increasingly turning towards population control as a method of saving the environment. Often discussed policy initiatives include lessening migration intake and even implementing policies such as the ‘one child policy’ that exists in China today. The logic here is pretty simple; by creating policies that aim to directly reduce population we reduce the amount of people who have the ability to degrade the environment and in turn reduce the impact humans have on the environment. From that sort of logic it seems like a pretty benign act. Unfortunately however, such policies can create terrible consequences through creating an insular society that ignores the problems of the rest of the world and restricts the rights of its own population.

Framed in a ‘Western’, ‘First World’ perspective populations policies such as those from, ‘Sustainable Population Australia’ tend to fall into two categories; (1) migration and (2) aiming for lower birth rates. I will have a look at both of these policy issues, within the framework of ‘first world’ and discuss some of the serious problems with such policy prescriptions.

Migration: Populations organisations often target lowered migration intakes as a desirable policy, as it provides an easy target that is measurable and somewhat politically favourable. However, such policies don’t create any beneficial environmental circumstances and simply causes serious social problems through inflicting harm on some of those who deserve it least. There are two real problems with policies of reducing migration. First, there is the obvious social problems that occur when a people reject a call for help from another group of people. Living in a society where people care and help for each other no matter where someone comes from or who they are is the sort of society I desire to live in and reducing migration intake fully rejects this ideal. Instead it creates a mantra that states:  ‘Because I was born here and was lucky enough to gain ‘citizenship’ from this nation, I deserve these resources and you don’t’. It is a simply fact that resources are spread unfairly throughout this world and rejecting migration simply says that this is something we are happy to continue to happen, which I cannot stand for.

Second however, and more interestingly for the environment movement, is that the reduction of migration simply doesn’t achieve anything, except social harm. No matter where we  live, we are all people who use resources. Whether I live in Africa, or Australia or anywhere else I live in a state that is based on a carbon intensive energy sector and moving to a different country will not change this. Therefore targeting migration doesn’t reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but simply changes where they occur. Therefore, a focus on migration simply doesn’t work and we would be better off targeting the production and consumption of resources on a worldwide basis to create a sustainable world population, rather than creating an insular society that focuses entirely on its own impact. 

The second policy provision that is often touted is one that is aimed at the current population of an area; birth control. There are two real problems with birth control policies. First, is the very obvious social issue of the right of a state to control ones sexuality and desires to have children. I strongly believe in the right for one to practice their desired sexual experiences as they wish (as long as consent is provided by all parties) and believe that having children is a part of this experience. I therefore have serious problems with stopping people from having children as I see it as a fundamental removal of one’s sexual rights.

Second, and again more interestingly for the environment movement, is the simple fact that stopping people from having children is a terrible policy idea. Whether we want to believe it or not, breeding and creating a future generation is somewhat important for continuation of human kind and given the extremely low birth rates in the majority of Western countries is seems somewhat ridiculous to claim that we need to drop births rates even lower. The simple fact is that if we do it, we won’t be producing enough children to support the current population when we grow old, which will create serious problems. This still ignores the serious social problems that can arise through the implementation of birth control measures, as seen in China, which are often hard to predict and difficult to solve. 

So what is the answer? There are obvious reasons to have concerns about the world’s growing population. We are now living in a world that holds 6 billion people and it is estimated by the UN that this population will continue to grow to 9 billion before we even have a chance of it dropping. We must look at how we can help curb this growth in population, but targeting migration and forcing people to stop having children is not the answer. Most studies will show that one of the most effective birth control measures is proper family planning facilities and the proper provision of methods of safer sex, especially in poorer areas. If we wish to have an impact on populations we would be much wiser to target these issues in our aid provision, not only helping population issues but also providing great social benefits for those who need them most. We cannot continue down the path that many wish for us to do as it will only lead us to a society that not only refuses to help others, but also neglects to help the environment in the meantime. 

March 22, 2009 Posted by | Analysing the Left, Climate Change and the Environment, Human Rights | , , , , | 6 Comments