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Public Interest and the engaged citizen

Nigel Slack, who I got to know through the Occupy Sheffield camp in 2011, has just launched a crowd-funder for a very interesting idea that my muse has apparently decided needs several hundred words writing about it in the early hours of the morning. My muse has the best timing. >_>

Anyway.

Slack is looking to do something which I’ve not heard about before, but which could be an interesting evolution of media and political engagement. He is asking for funds to spend the next year investigating and asking questions of local government. As far as I can tell, he is hoping to, on a local and direct basis, be sort of an investigative journalist, sort of a local advocate, and sort of a local advocate not affiliated to a party, ward or in hock to procedure.

If you go to his crowd-funding page, you can see that he has already made quite a name for himself in the local area through persistently asking questions and tracking down facts to find out what is being done in our name by our local representatives, and to bring to light things that they seem to want us not to know. He is particularly dogged with outsourcing, a growing feature of all levels of government, and one which both obscures what is happening, and to a large extent removes control of day to day operations from elected representatives to the machinations of lawyers and contracts. I don’t want to say that outsourcing is never a good idea (please Capita, don’t sue me!) but if you pay attention to the news, you don’t have to think very hard to call to mind an example of outsourcing going, let’s say, according to the letter rather than the spirit of the contract.

So yeah. My mate’s doing this thing. I think he’s awesome, and will be putting some cash in as soon as I’ve got some to spare. I think it will increase transparency in Sheffield, and that he will ask questions that should be asked.

But obviously I’ve got questions, and some thoughts as a result of both this idea, and some of the other stuff that’s been floating around both my head and online.

So yeah. Isn’t this what you would expect a local newspaper to be doing?

Well, I would. Except that the coverage in the local press is really not that good, and the online versions of all local papers are so awful that I actively avoid them. If either the paper or online offerings were better, I might give them pageviews / cash, but at the moment, that’s just not happening. And even if I did give them money, I’m only really interested in supporting the political coverage.

I hear about all my local plays through social networks. Charity events in the city are publicised to me by friends taking part. I don’t follow football, and I get the Sheffield Steelers news sent directly to my inbox. I have Gumtree, MySheffieldJobs, Freecycle, SpareRoom.com, Yell.com, Zoopla, eBay, JustEat and all those other classified websites. I don’t really need a local newspaper.

Local newspapers have been dwindling around the country, and print media in general is in a total flap on how to deal with the disruptive force of the internet. Many of the functions of a local newspaper are filled by social media, online classifieds websites and by organisations that send out their own news by email and blog post. In the age of the search engine, when you can find out anything by asking your phone (nd with Siri, you don’t even have to type it) what is left as the unique selling point of the local paper?

You could argue that one of the few things that they have which you can’t get elsewhere, is someone not tied to party politics who has the time and the inclination to dig through the evidence, ask the questions, and get the Council to ‘fess up to the stuff it doesn’t want to talk about.

Freedom of information legislation is no good if there is no one with the time and expertise to ask the right questions and make sense of the answers. Data on it’s own doesn’t really mean anything. As any information manager will tell you, data needs processing into information before it can be acted upon.

I suppose you could argue that there are other ways to access this information. But are there? I can’t find any really. There are the Council web pages, but that’s by it’s very nature selective reporting in the best interests of the Council.

I suppose there are other people asking the Council questions, but most people tend to be motivated by a single issue or set of issues that affect them, rather than being committed to uncovering things full time, and doing so across the board, regardless of their personal stake in the matter. There are also, of course, those who are seeking to advance themselves within political parties, who will of course have motives and views that are at least partly in line with at least some of the Councillors.

There is the Sheffield Politics site, who don’t really seem to be that clear on their purpose. Also, to save you the trouble of looking, they last tweeted 2 months ago, their last news story was in August, and the last blog post was mid-September. The tumbleweed. It blows.

The chance to have a regular update on the position of local politics in Sheffield, from someone without a stake other than to keep receiving public contributions, would be really interesting. Maybe he might consider moving to a structure more like Patreon if things go well.

Which brings up the sticky question of funding. All funding has to come from somewhere and it all comes with strings, whether explicit or implied. Will this mean he is influenced by the source of his funding?

Well, yes, but so is pretty much everyone. We live under capitalism. It sucks and this is one of the ways it sucks. This kind of relates to my last post on a citizen’s income, actually. Currently we are none of us free. Almost all of us are tethered to whatever pays the bills and puts food on the table. For most people that is waged labour. Those who aren’t employed are dependent on a shrinking welfare state, a fickle market or supported by savings which are dependent on the vagaries of the international banking system.

We do not live in a perfect world. This is as good a work around as any to get this kind of oversight for local government, if that’s a thing you want.

It does raise the issue of class and privilege though. The sort of people who most need the Council to be held to account for their decisions are those who have the most to lose, and by definition, the least to spare on crowd-funding for someone to ask questions. How can one individual ensure that they are asking the most pressing questions? How can one ensure one doesn’t end up just pursuing one issue to the exclusion of all other issues, regardless of their urgency?

I don’t have an answer for this, and I’ll be interested to see if this is an issue Slack has to confront, and if it’s possible for him to continue to ask the questions on behalf of the most vulnerable, whilst necessarily receiving funding from people who are better off.

One of the interesting things that might happen is that the coverage of Sheffield politics in the national press may improve due to essentially having a full time freelance journalist attached directly to the Council. I hope that Slack continues to find newsworthy material that, with the oxygen of publicity, changes things for the better in Sheffield. But I hope, and would suggest if he hasn’t already, that Slack work out some sort of financial template for allowing journalists to access his research and re-print his stories.

There you go Nigel. There’s an idea for you. For free. Also, if anyone else wants to set something like this up elsewhere, srsly, get a Patreon and blog at least once a week, ask people to subscribe for access to a well-curated online filing system for background documents and have rates for publications wanting to re-post your stories. The whole media environment is evolving fast at the moment. This idea may be one whose time has come.

I did have a whole bit here about representation and the way society and institutions are structured and blah blah blah, but then it was 3am and it was making less and less sense with every draft, so it’ll have to wait for another time. Suffice it to say that there’s nothing truly revolutionary about what Slack is trying to do, but within the limitations of the current system, it can’t hurt, and may well do some good.

Why a citizen’s income is essential for real democracy

This isn’t going to be very polished. As much as I’d love to turn out perfectly crafted posts one after the other, I don’t really have the energy.

Which is sort of what I want to talk about.

There are so many things I would like to be able to devote time and energy to. So many causes I would like to be furthering. Campaigns I could see myself learning from and contributing to.

But I don’t have the energy.

Over the last two years I have been forced to confront the fact that I am, and have been for some time, quite severely disabled.

I sleep on average 10 to 18 hours a day. I run an Etsy shop and while I love it, I would love for it to be something that I do in addition to an office job. Seriously – I love keeping a tidy database, an immaculate calendar and a tiny filing pile. Genuinely. I know that is rare.

Once upon a time, I did a full day job, went out straight from work to do rock climbing or bouldering in the Peaks, then came home, cooked dinner and got in a good few hours of book / internet reading and maybe some crafting as well before going to bed and doing it all again the next day. (This was before I caught the politics bug.)

I could not even begin thinking of doing that now.

As I said above, there are so many things I would like to be able to get involved in. So many things I would like to be doing. But all my energy at the moment is sucked up by the task of survival. And I’m not even doing particularly well at that.

I’ve applied for PIP, but predictably it’s taking ages. If I had any independent income, I would not be reliant on my partners for literally everything.

I try to not feel guilty for eating when my partner frequently has to work overtime to make the household budget work. I want to be able to employ a cleaner so that at least once a week the floor is clean of dog hair. I want to be able to afford to get more pre-prepared or easy to cook meals so my partners don’t have to come home from long days, look after me, clean the house and then cook. I want to ease the load a bit. I want to carry my weight in the home.

I want to relieve the weight of this guilt and do something more productive with all that mental energy.

Something like make a fuss about the bullshit that’s still going on in Ferguson.

Something like supporting women in gaming in the other ‘why the fuck is this still a thing’ subject of #GamerGate.

Something like doing more reading, thinking, talking and blogging on the subject of queer and feminist anarchy. I’ve found everything I’ve read on the subject so far to be fascinating, but I can’t honestly say I have enough knowledge to claim anything but a passing interest so far. This is A Problem for me. A problem I don’t currently have the resources to solve.

Something like manage to hit the most basic of targets that I set for myself, like being able to do a single online food order for delivery each week. You wouldn’t think that would be that hard, but honestly, some weeks it feels like climbing a rope ladder to the moon.

Something like being able to read all the politics that lands in my inbox and decide whether I want to do what the writer is asking. At the moment it pretty much all gets archived straight off.

Something like help my friend Peter Garbutt unseat Nick Clegg in next May’s general election. (Seriously, the Greens have a decent chance in Sheffield Hallam, and Peter is an awesome dude who would make a great MP. Dear The Green Party, why is Hallam not a target seat? If I had more time and resources, I would be fighting for this.)

Something like reading newspapers again, so I was even vaguely up on what else I could find interesting and be working on right now were I not forced into survival mode.

With a citizen’s income, I would be able to participate more in politics. Helen Lewis may not be everyone’s favourite journalist, but she hit the nail on the head when she asked the other day How do we get questions of care up the political agenda, when carers are too knackered to complain? The same question can obviously be asked for those who need care and would love to be able to adequately compensate those who provide it for them, like me. Aaron Bastani made the point in a recent radio show that the Tory party feel able to ignore and stamp on the poor as much as they please because they are so desperately scrabbling to live that they do not have time to campaign against the political violence being directed at them.

I know that there are a lot of people who don’t want us to have a real democracy. Also that there are many criticisms of our current democracy. I would love to read them. I really would. So would many other people whose energy is currently uselessly expended on surviving within and perpetuating our broken system. A universal unconditional basic income, for adults and children, with disability allowances on top, would free up so much energy. The case seems to be in the process of being made for this idea.

I’ve joined the Greens on the basis of their support for the policy. I mention the idea when it seems relevant. I’ve written this. What else can I do, given my physical limitations?

It’s the worst kind of Catch 22.

Poly Means Many: the little things

Poly Means Many: There are many aspects of polyamory. Each month, the PMM bloggers will write about their views on one of them. Links to all posts will be found at http://www.polymeansmany.com from tomorrow. This month, our topic is “the little things”.

The big things will always be there. They are obvious.

The little things are what keep us going every day, with hearts full of love and faces shining with smiles.

Laughing with my metamour at our boyfriend’s wedding reception.

Watching my partners cuddle each other on the sofa.

Having three sets of wonderful partners parents instead of just one, and being able to call the non-legally binding ones out-laws instead of in-laws.

The first time my father wrote a card to all four of us, instead of just me and my legal spouse.

Having someone to talk to about your frustrations with a partner, whilst knowing that the person you’re talking to loves them just as much as you do.

Being about to share joy about a partner’s strengths and successes with someone who is just as proud of them as you are.

Being able to plot with two partners to do awesome things for the third.

I watch Star Trek with one. We’ve watched all the movies and everything post TNG except Enterprise.

I watch ice hockey with another. We went to Latvia together to watch Team GB in the Olympic qualifying matches.

I watch Supernatural with the third. We swop fan fiction, theories and pictures by email and tumblr.

With my most recent ex, I played Mass Effect. They had the controller for the Mako sections, because I cannot make that thing drive in a straight line, no matter what I do.

We all watch Star Wars together.

The different ways they kiss you.How funny it is to have three partners simultaneously express that they can’t believe that you really haven’t seen this movie yet. And then they fix that.

With four to divide between, a cheesecake for pudding almost never feels like too much. And hey, any excuse for cheesecake is a win in my book.

The different ways they hug you.

The different pet names they have for you.

The different interests they have.

The different smiles they have that light up their faces and souls.

The different ways they respond to problems and requests for help, giving you multiple perspectives and ideas for every problem, and helping you to choose the best way forward.

The sharing.

All the little things that add up to a surety of love. The little things that add up to a life together.

Poly Means Many: Polywobbles

Content note: low self-esteem, anxiety, disordered thinking. None of these are the focus of this post, but are mentioned or referenced. 

I’m going to take a bit of a weird direction here and write about something which I’m currently struggling with. I know how to get from here to being okay again, but there’s a bit of work to do between here and there.

As well as being poly, I’m actually a whole person! Part of being a whole person, for me, is that I suffer from mental health problems which, from time to time, mean that I need more hugs and talking than normal. One of these funks arrived about three weeks ago and has yet to let me up. I am hugely fortunate to live with three fabulous partners who have made me feel wonderfully supported while my brain takes a holiday from being able to do useful stuff.

So, I hear you ask, where’s the poly bit of the wobble?

It’s in the way I’m responding and the sort of support I’m asking for.

Our family started out as two couples, and in times of crisis, I turn primarily to the person I’ve been with the longest, my legal husband, Tom. He has brought me tea. In pint mugs. He has made me laugh by telling me stupid dad jokes and coming up with wonder/awful puns. He has listened as I’ve talked myself dry with tears falling on his shoulders. He makes sure I keep eating.

And there is a horrid little voice in the back of my head that keeps telling me that this means that I’m not really poly. That my relationships with my other two partners can’t be real. That I’m somehow letting down my partners and the poly community be leaning on my partners in the different ways that I am.

I suspect that much of this is just the natural fall out of my brain’s holiday, and that if I didn’t have more than one partner, it would be telling me I was currently being too much of a burden for any one person, or inventing any number of other things to get worked up about.

But that aside, it makes no sense for me to worry about this. We have chosen to be a family, not a separate pair of couples, but every relationship is unique. The fact is that one of my relationships has about twice as much history as my other two. And as for somehow letting down the community? Our family is ours, and the most important thing is that it works for us. After all, isn’t that why we’re poly in the first place? There’s no point rejecting one set of relationships norms just to adopt or create another. (If you want a long read on this, I can thoroughly recommend Andrea Zanin’s post on polynormativity at her Sex Geek blog.)

Being part of a non-standard relationship can give us wobbles about our roles and how we ‘ought’ to be relating to our partners. We have fewer role models than those in standard monogamous relationships, and it can be hard to truly understand that it is okay for our relationships to look like nothing we’ve seen before, as long as it works for everyone involved. It can also be daunting to have such a sea of possibilities. But the most important thing for us to remember is that the only audience that really matters is our partner(s), and the only metric by which success can truly be measured is whether it works, not how closely it conforms to any given model.

Now, if anyone has a sure fire way of getting that message into my brain past my current batch of brainweasels, I would love to hear from you!

Benefit application

So, if you’ve been paying attention to anything welfare related, you’ll have seen stories like this: http://m.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-27796739 The government is seriously backed up on disability benefit applications.

How could they be fucking this up this badly?

Having just completed a PIP application form, I don’t think this is in any way accidental. The form bears a passing resemblance to the qualifying criteria, but is hard to fill in, and helps neither applicant nor assessor to see clearly whether a certain symptom should be mentioned or contributes points towards receiving the benefit.

The government stated that they wanted to discontinue IB and DLA to save money, and I believe them, because the form I just filled in did everything it could to make me feel uncomfortable. The boxes you can tick don’t match the criteria for receiving qualification points, and you’re left with what’s actually quite a small space to try and condense complex and interconnected behaviours, symptoms and challenges to try and say, without being able to say so, “I fit the criteria for 4 points in this section”.

It will probably be a very long time before I hear about the outcome of my application. And I am very lucky. For me and my family, me being awarded PIP takes us from ‘getting by’ to ‘actually doing alright and the back payments mean we can do up the bathroom so I can wash even when I can’t stand up for long’.

We are lucky. I have paid in to the system and am now working towards collecting on my insurance. We are in the lucky position that we don’t absolutely need it to live. Many are not so lucky, and these delays are causing massive suffering.

Just found this in my drafts folder and can’t for the life of me think why I didn’t publish it earlier. It’s not polished, but hey. Originally drafted 11 June.

Facebook and the implications for sad people

As you probably know by now, Facebook have been manipulating user’s newsfeeds in an effort to study and affect their moods

There are a whole load of hooks in this story, but one I haven’t seen so far is asking the question, if Facebook have been manipulating what people see in an effort to make them sad, might this be a precedent or excuse for them hiding sad people altogether?

I am a sad person. I struggle with anxiety and depression, and my body is limited in several ways that would make anyone sad to have to deal with. I draw great comfort and strength from the ways in which I engage with my friends over social media. I also like the fact that, although I am not around often in physical locations, and hardly ever bump into people by accident (all my interactions are planned), I can, through social media, spot if someone is having a rough time and offer them support.

This research proves that you can filter out the sad posts from people in your social group, but what does that do to the people making those posts? 

I wasn’t born yesterday. I know that there are times when the sadness of others is overwhelming. I know that, from inside my own body, there seems so little I can do to make things better, so it must be hard for others to read that too. I limit the posts I make regarding my disabilities for exactly that reason. I know that there are only so many times someone you haven’t managed to have a pint with in two years can say ‘That sucks’ to you over Facebook before they wonder if they even know the person they are offering sympathy to anymore.

Being sad sucks. Needing support from other people because you are so sad you can’t just pull yourself up sucks more. But asking for support and being met with silence because the platform you are using to do so has decided that it wants its users happy and spending money? That would suck the worst.

PSA: Snapchat and penises

So, the first time I put my Snapchat name out on my Twitter feed, I asked for dick pics. I did this mostly as a joke, because I didn’t really believe that people would honestly send pictures of their reproductive organs to me, a complete stranger on the internet, for no other reason than they could. Also, I figured that if anyone WAS going to send me dick pics, they would do so regardless of what I said, merely by virtue of me having given out my Snapchat name on an unprotected Twitter profile. At least if I asked for it, I reasoned, then it wasn’t actually sexual harassment, just a joke.

That time, I got sent three dicks. And it was kinda funny. At least until one of these dicks kept making itself known for a further month, once the joke had gotten really very stale indeed. Much like their cock cheese.

Today, I was Snapchatting away and thought to myself that I’d quite like to have more people to chat with. I sent out another tweet, this time asking for ‘people to Snapchat my face, dog and yarn to’.

First pic was a dick. It arrived within 3 mins.

This time, I didn’t ask.

My Snapchat name is fearlessknits. I would love to send you pics of my face, dog and yarn, and see bits of your life that you’d like to share.

But no dicks.

If you send me a picture of your penis, I will tweet out your Snapchat name, comments on the pic, and a grade, from A to D. If I can be bothered.

Please don’t send me dick pics. I’m far more interested in your craft projects, pretty faces, and whether the weather is being particularly beautiful round your way.

Thanks!

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