In November 2019, DGR UK hosted an event in London titled By Any Means Necessary? Diversity of Tactics in the Fight for Life on Earth. The event featured a panel discussion between four long-time environmental and social activists: Lierre Keith, radical feminist activist and writer, co-author of Deep Green Resistance: Strategy to Save the Planet; Simon Be, activist and co-founder of Extinction Rebellionl; Shahidah Janjua, feminist activist, writer and campaigner; and Nikki Clarke, anti-nuclear and anti-fracking activist, co-founder of South West Against Nuclear.
A video of the event is embedded here. Below the video, you can read the written text of the presentation by Shahidah Janjua:
by Shahidah Janjua
I see patriarchy as the overarching system of oppression over all sentient and non-sentient existence on the planet. In every instance any word you can come up with to describe the violence done to women, you can also apply to what is done to the environment, to the planet. The planet is a ‘she’, so you can do what you like to her. ‘Civilisation’ is the name given to a patriarchal, hierarchical and violent system of oppression. It rests on the idea of superiority. It also implies an opposite, ‘uncivilised’. Civilisation divides us on the basis of gender, sexuality, colour, ability, class. The most civilised are male, white, heterosexual, able bodied, and usually rich. The greatest challenge for us all is to become uncivilised. To become idigenised. To become one with our environment and with each other. By which I mean that our knowing, our being, our doing and relating is brought into every aspect of the communities we build. It means building harmonious, respectful, equal and just communities. It involves helping each other to undo the lies Patriarchy has told us. Our languages are filled with falsehoods and reversals.
I learned a great deal from Andrea Dworkin, radical Feminist activist and writer. She saved my life. She named the violence and oppression, male supremacy. She named my constant fear, my hyper vigilance. She broke down the barriers between women. She broke down barriers between women and men. Male violence is not genetic, inherent or inevitable, it is a product of a woman hating society. Misogyny is a blueprint for how power works.
We need a movement which honours everyone, every living entity, a movement which honours women, which acts upon violence done to all humans, to everything. We need a movement which doesn’t tell women to wait our turn, because there are other more pressing concerns. In that waiting too many of us are raped, murdered, disappeared, made slaves, prostituted and dehumanised. This is why women have not made alliances with men, because men have habitually put us last. For there to be a movement of all peoples, men need to look at what ‘civilisation’ has done to you. It has denied you your humanity in every conceivable way, got you to prop up its system of control, violence and oppression. It has terrorised women and made us complicit. We need to dig deep to unlearn these ideas and behaviours.
Mental health is a huge issue for people today. Here we are trying our best to live what are essentially a lot of lies. Is it any wonder we are driven to distraction. Relationships are atomised by patriarchy. The capitalist, patriarchal plan, promotes individualism, keeps us separate from each other, does away with community. Patriarchy makes it very hard for us to name our experiences and make connections with others. It fragments us down to a cellular level. Science, beaks us down, takes each piece of us and creates a specialism out of it. I take a drug to kill lung infection and it destroys my liver. One area of research is severed from another. Big pharma make money out of our illnesses, many of which are caused by them and by other corporations, who pollute and poison us, our environments, our planet.
There is nothing left untouched by patriarchal misnaming and patriarchal violence. Cruelty is manufactured and released into the unsuspecting minds of boys, the men of tomorrow, who have sensitivity, and curiosity. Boys go into porn sites for information on human bodies and sex. They are confronted with images of their future selves as torturers and murderers of women. The women in the pictures, in the videos are real women. Lately boys are shown that choking and strangling are the manly things to do to women, orgasm is their reward. Callous and careless about a being that closely resembles himself, how will a boy respond to any living creature that does not resemble him; the animals, the earth, the forests, the rivers? How will he care about the planet.
Robin Morgan says, and I paraphrase, ‘If I had to name one genius of patriarchy it would be compartmentalisation’. ‘Intellect severed from emotion…. The earth itself divided.
How did we get to this point? We have had little or no history of our own to refer to. We’ve dug out what we can, but we haven’t heard or read it in any systematic, ongoing way. The oppressor writes history. The message patriarchy gives us is that this system, of cruelty, violence, greed, war, money, has always existed, it is natural, it is unchangeable. This is precisely why it disappears or destroys our histories. They would expose the patriarchal lies
I thought democracy meant I had a say in the way society was run, that it was about people making decisions about how we live, that the people we vote for have our interests at heart, our need for shelter, warmth, food, medicine, education. Where everyone is a valued member of the community, cared for and respected. This too is a deeply ingrained patriarchal lie. Democracy was conceived in Greece by people who owned women and slaves. Historically numbers of people have been denied voting rights, because they were the wrong sex, the wrong colour, in prison, without property. Today there are millions of people who are disenfranchised. Voting is a way of co-opting us into an unjust, exploitative, oppressive system. It has harmed us, made us poor, jobless, homeless, cold, hungry and ill. Who has ever voted for that? The liars are powerful and the lie persists.
There had been many waves of women’s activism prior to the so-called first wave. There remain some egalitarian societies in existence today. We are not told about them. There was no mention of the Syrian Kurdish Rojava region, where women and men are striving together to create a just and equal society. This is the community that is being bombed out of existence. The so-called first wave women’s movement started when women protested sexual abuse, violence, rape, prostitution. Men divided that movement, some women were brought into the patriarchal fold and promised the vote, the ability to change laws, to bring women into equal power. Today we have no equal pay, rapists go unpunished, prostitution with all its violence, is seen as a job, women in the UK are murdered at the rate of 3 per week. I see no point in counting the numbers of women in governments, in corporations, in work-places, when these structures are patriarchal. That is not equality, it is co-option.
Some feminists have spent decades trying to change laws, work alongside governments, work in state institutions to bring about change from the inside. We have worked hard and tirelessly. None of it has worked. We have been doing the master’s work. Breaking our backs and our hearts to illustrate how we are hurt in these systems of oppression. We have done the research, named the violence. Created platforms for vulnerable and hurt women to speak out. We have begged and pleaded. We have given the master the language we use, and he has turned it against us. More recently we have witnessed how quickly the laws, the rights, the concessions we have fought so hard for, can be swept away at the stroke of a pen. At the same time there are movements across the world which are using laws to claim what is rightfully theirs. Some are winning. The lessons we have learnt would point to the transitory nature of these gains.
I believe it is absolutely necessary to draw lessons from our past struggles against patriarchy. It is necessary to develop new strategies; to unravel the influence patriarchy has had on our thinking. I believe we need to make connections. Pornography, prostitution, violence against women, rape, are part and parcel of the patriarchal means of control of not only women, but also everything else. Colonialism, capitalism, industrial civilisation are on the same continuum. The subjugation of women is the blueprint for oppression. We cannot continue to fudge this reality, if we are serious about the business of our survival as a species, and if we truly hold to the principles of valuing all life equally.
I believe we need to understand that we cannot ask for justice from a system which is deeply invested in injustice. Our strategies, including civil disobedience, have in time wrought the same long-term realities; that we have been assimilated into the power structures, or had the substance of our challenges subverted in some other way. To quote Audre Lorde, black lesbian, activist, writer, ‘We cannot use the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house.’
I believe that we would need to have a multi-pronged strategy of resistance, one arm being the one that informs, educates, promotes understanding, that encourages involvement and activism; that is on the streets, consistently visible. Another arm engaged in developing alternative ways of living, according to local environments and local knowledge. This would mean existing villages, parts of towns, blocks of flats, housing estates, becoming self- managed, with non-hierarchical, non-patriarchal arrangements; working towards taking themselves off the grid. There is one example in the heart of New York. This will be how we build community.
In the process of indigenising, there is everything to be learned from indigenous peoples. From those who have hung on to their histories, language, knowledge, lived in deep connection with their local environments, honouring how it nourishes them and how they can nourish it in return. We need to learn how to live in harmony with our immediate environment, and with the planet.
I have for very many years believed in non-violent action. I have revisited the question from time to time, principally when I thought I could murder traffickers, rapists, pimps, pornographers…. the list goes on. However, I do believe that dismantling the infrastructure ‘industrial civilisation’, is another arm of a necessary strategy towards destroying it. There are many historic and current, mostly hidden, examples of this.
My fear is that unless men look with deep scrutiny at their place in the patriarchal construct of society, how it destroys their humanity, how it fragments them, how it buys them off with the promise of power and control …… these actions become what any other war instigated by the oppressors looks like, a struggle for power, not a struggle to destroy industrial civilisation and to restore balance to the planet.
We are here to find solutions together. There may be many different solutions, depending on where we live, how we live, who we are learning from, who we work with. I do believe that we cannot have a single centre, or centralised power, which tells us what to do and when to do it. At the same time we do all need a shared moral and ethical base, which upholds everything we are fighting for, a genuine deep respect for each other, for the environment, for the planet, a just and fair place, a place of safety.
Featured image by the students of the Deep Green Bush School.