Why counter-protesting Fascists isn’t “feeding the trolls”

In the last couple of weeks, fascists have been meeting and demonstrating across the UK, using a senseless tragedy to fan the flames of racism and Islamophobia and to collect more people into their hateful ranks. This terrifies me.

I will say it. I am scared. I am scared not just for my Muslim friends and acquaintances currently living under the very real threat of senseless violence against their homes, work places and mosques and the very real possibility of being attacked in the street. I’m scared not just for my friends who aren’t white, who face much the same threats as my Muslim friends. I’m scared for me and for everyone who lives in the UK, scared of a potential future of a fascist UK. I don’t want that future to ever become reality, not in my lifetime and not even in my great great grandchildren’s lifetimes. Fascism has to be stopped, here and now, while it is still small.

Yet people have been trying to argue that the best response to fascist and far right groups like the EDL is to ignore them. To pretend they aren’t there. Someone I know said last night about an EDL rally planned for the city in which I live, “Don’t feed the trolls, they only want attention”.

THIS IS LIKELY THE WORST POSSIBLE RESPONSE TO THE GROWTH OF FASCISM. Possibly even a worse response than trying to “rationally debate” with fascists. I’m all for refusing fascists a platform, but when they are mobilising we should not look away and pretend they aren’t there.

Why?

Firstly, because it’s not true that they “only want attention”. What fascists want is a fascist state, which by its very nature is a place where many people could not safely live – people who can’t live up to some kind of nationalist ideal. In the past, this has meant anyone who isn’t sufficiently white, able-bodied, Christian, heterosexual and normatively gendered and I fear that if groups like the EDL, the BNP, the British Freedom Party and UKIP gain more support in the UK then it is these people again who will find themselves faced with living in a country that doesn’t want them, that may try to expel, punish or kill them for being who they are or will encourage or ignore violence against them. This has happened before and it’s not a great stretch of the imagination to see it happening again. It’s not attention the fascists are after, they have goals and those goals should be vehemently opposed by anyone who believes in freedom and human worth.

The second reason that fascists should be meet with resistance from antifascists is that they commonly believe they are (and in the UK at least will often present themselves as) representatives of the “silent majority”. That is, they believe that most people secretly agree with them but are too afraid of the consequences to say so. This is not true. When counter-protests draw more people than the fascists can, it shows them that their views are not widespread and certainly not shared by everyone. Ignoring their protests allows them to continue to assume that everyone is quietly agreeing with them.

Relatedly, opposing fascist actions shows those involved who are not wholly committed to fascism that there are other views and other ways to think about and solve the problems they turned towards fascism to solve. I accept that some people end up involved in fascist, neofascist and far right groups in response to very real and important problems – I can’t accept the proposed solutions they found (which usually involve people like me assimilating away our differences or facing persecution, punishment, expulsion or death for failing to do so). Showing those people that there are other ways to solve their problems (like, say, pushing for better pay and working conditions and affordable housing rather than complaining that the Muslim family down the road get a council house and benefits to look after their disabled daughter) might help them come to see that their energy would be better expended elsewhere.

Perhaps the most important reason why fascism has to be publically, openly opposed to to show those people who would suffer under a fascist state that we are not alone. We need to see that there are people around us who will speak out, who will not allow fascist far right groups to decide for everyone else who is and isn’t sufficiently “British” to live here, who will not look away and pretend it’s not happening when our homes and lives and cultures are under threat. We are scared and it’s all too easy and understandable to see potential fascists in every unfamiliar face, to worry that quiet racism, islamophobia, anti-semitism, homophobia, disablism and transphobia hides behind the smiles of our friends and acquaintances. The lie of the “silent majority” is a disguised threat, inviting us to believe that the people around us could turn on us at any moment if we are not “British” enough, not apologetic enough for daring to be here and still be culturally different from the mainstream. Any public demonstration against fascists is a public demonstration of solidarity with us, a public declaration of the belief that people who are very different from each other can live together in peace. By countering fascist demos, we can send a message of hope to the people who live or work nearby and the people who hear that the demo was countered by an anti-fascist one and that message is “We want you here, we want people like you”.

SO:
Do whatever you have to do to keep safe when fascists are nearby – even if that means staying home. But do whatever you can do to show both the fascists and those they threaten that fascism is not wanted, needed or accepted here. Show solidarity with those who are threatened and make clear that you want to live in a place where people are different from each other and still get along peacefully, not somewhere where a fragile peace is kept by forcing everyone to try to be the same.

Don’t ignore the fascists, don’t pretend they aren’t there. Work against their ideals and for a world where no one is punished for being different.

Advertisements

We are not your collateral damage

Being a “lefty”, a student, a feminist, a vegetarian, a disabled person, an LGBT person and a Jew, I find that a lot of my friends have causes that they are passionate about and actively campaign about – not least because almost all of my friends are in at least one of those categories.

And I get that. I really do. I know how it feels to look at some terrible injustice and think “If only people knew this was happening, they’d be so angered and upset they’d just have to do something about it”. I know how urgent it can seem, how important, how necessary. And it is important and those issues that set your heart pounding, the things that get you up in the morning determined to make the world a better place are things that often need more attention and more people working for change…

BUT.

Not at the expense of the health of people like me. Not at the expense of people with mental health problems that can be triggered by seeing distressing images or videos or reading graphic descriptions of violence.

This is really quite, quite simple. Don’t use shocking images to get your point across and if you’re going to use shocking images or graphic descriptions of violence, gore or medical procedures provide a warning so people can choose to opt out of seeing/reading them.

But it’s meant to raise awareness…

That’s not a good enough reason to risk causing serious harm to someone else’s mental health. Some images will cause some people to experience distressing symptoms such as flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, pyschosis or panic attacks and may lead to some people harming themselves. That’s not an acceptable thing to risk – no matter what you’re raising awareness of. You don’t get to decide for other people that your message is more important than their safety – so provide warnings and let people make their own choices about what they can safely see.

But of course it’s distressing! I want to shock people into action…

I’ve heard this excuse a number of times and I get it. You know that images like the one you’re sharing are distressing. You’re pretty upset yourself and you think that seeing the image will move people much more than reading a description of the situation. Heck, you might even be right about that. But getting triggered is not just being upset or distressed and if action is what you want from people as a result of you sharing an image, triggering people is entirely counterproductive. Being triggered involves something causing someone to experience severe negative mental illness symptoms and can often result in that person spending hours or days unable to do anything but try to cope with and recover from those symptoms. I am no use to women’s rights if I am crying in a corner and no use to Palestine if I’m hyperventilating. In the long term, people who have the kinds of mental illness that can be triggered may find ourselves avoiding precisely the kind of activism you want us to get involved in because we are not safe when people around us share potentially harmful images without warnings or attempts to gain consent. We simply can’t stay involved if harming us is seen as somehow acceptable or “collateral damage”.

But it’s for the greater good! / Triggering won’t affect very many people…

If you’re making this argument, take a good long hard look at yourself and think “What kind of person am I? Am I the kind of person who is okay with causing harm to other people to further my aims? Even when those are innocent, uninvolved people who might even genuinely want to help my cause?” Have some compassion, please. If you can further your cause without harming people and you choose to do it in ways that can harm people, I’m not going to think of you as a nice and trustworthy person no matter how good your intentions.

We are not your “collateral damage”. We are not eggs that get broken so you can make your omelette. We are people and we deserve to be able to be online and be involved in activism without other people putting our mental health at risk.

Autism, Linguistic Processing and Lip Reading

I’ve a lot of thoughts about more political stuff going round in my head but am having trouble separating the different strands into things I could actually write about, so instead here is a post about one way my autism affects me and ways that I work around it.

From talking to lots of other autistic adults, I’ve learned that quite a lot of us have difficulty with something called “linguistic processing”. What this means is that our brains take longer than most people’s brains to differentiate speech sounds from non-speech sounds and so we are slower to realise which sounds we can hear are most important. Neurotypical people’s brains seem to be pretty good at quickly working out which sounds are speech, our brains have to work to remember that not all sounds need equal attention.

When I was a young child I was repeatedly given hearing tests only to find that my hearing is perfectly typical. Other autistic adults have recounted similar experiences. Part of this of course stems from autistic people’s tendency to act differently from neurotypical people, teachers and parents may have difficulty believing that a child can hear if that child doesn’t look up when their name is called or doesn’t look at people who are speaking – but these are not really indicators that someone has heard what is being said. The other reason why people might repeated assume that an autistic child or adult is deaf or hard of hearing is the noticeable delay between something being said to us and our response. If this delay is long enough that the other person repeats what they said, it looks like we didn’t hear them the first time.

So, what’s happening?
When someone speaks to me, it can take a moment for me to recognise that anyone is speaking. Then I have to recognise that someone is speaking *to me* and I am supposed to listen. Once that’s out of the way, I have to check what language is being spoken. If it’s English, I then hear all the words and start tying them together as a sentence in my head. This takes time. Whole seconds. More if any words are unfamiliar or unexpected. I often have to make educated guesses about how the sentence began or what some of the words are because I couldn’t listen to them properly over my own thoughts of “Is this speech? Am I being spoken to? Do I need to respond? Is this a command or a question?” Sometimes I guess incorrectly and answer a question that wasn’t asked – this furthers the suspicion that I cannot hear. But can hear fine – what I can’t do is process the information as quickly as it is being given.

I’ve had to live with this all my life and there are a few ways I’ve learnt to adapt. One is by lip-reading. Watching the shapes people’s lips make can give me more clues as to what words they are saying. Sometimes I find myself silently mimicking the shapes with my own lips to try to work out what someone is saying. Other things that have made my understanding of speech much better are subtitles (closed captions) and asking people to make or provide notes on what they are saying / will be saying. Power points are great for this – if I can read your powerpoint slides I have some idea of what you might be saying, the same goes for advance copies of lecture notes. Of course, most speech is not lectures or TV but writing down key points of what you are saying or have just said can be very helpful. I can’t write them down myself as I’m still trying very hard to understand what you said at all but it is very helpful when people write down what they are asking me to do for example.

What can you do?

  • Give people enough time to respond. Wait while I/they mentally rewind and replay what you just said until I/they understand it. Don’t immediately repeat what you just said. If about 30 seconds have elapsed, ask if you should repeat what you said.
  • Information in other formats. Write down anything really important.
  • Put subtitles / closed captions on your videos online and transcripts on your podcasts. I won’t be able to understand them properly without this.
  • Try to face the person you’re speaking to and not to obstruct their view of your face.
  • Don’t expect people to look at your eyes – or even at you at all – when you’re speaking to them. Many autistic people find it much harder to concentrate on speech if they are looking at someone’s face. Some of us lipread, some of us don’t.
  • Offer to go somewhere quieter if the person you’re talking to seems to be struggling – even if you don’t think it’s that loud.
  • Read this

BADD – People don’t listen

If you’ve read my blog much or know me in real life, you’ll have gathered that I differ significantly from some platonic template of “Humanity” in a number of socially undervalued / undesirable ways – which is to say that I’m disabled.Humans are all really quite different from each other and we all accept that – but some differences are seen as deficiencies, as problems, as wrongness. Part of the social model of disability is the idea that it was never set in stone which differences would be considered just differences and which would be considered problems. More excitingly, it still isn’t set in stone. Some “problems” can cease to be problems.

My body and my brain deviate from “standard issue” quite a bit. Increasingly, in fact. I have never been and never will be what is currently understood to be “normal”. For the most part, I’m okay with that.

Other people aren’t. They won’t all admit it but a lot of people seem to find people like me – disabled people – pretty disturbing. How do I know this when most other adults won’t straight up call me freak or cripple? I know this by people’s reactions when I talk about my impairments (i.e. the differences about my brain and body that my society considers to be deviations and problems).

When I talk about my autism, dyspraxia and dyslexia, I tend to be fairly upbeat and straightfoward. I like my brain, I’m used to how it works, I am in many ways a master of using it to learn and I know how to turn my differences into advantages. Whilst I wish there’d been more support for me when I was a child, for the most part I enjoy my neurodiverse brain and I get on well with it despite the difficulties I have navigating a world that wasn’t really designed to accommodate people with brains like mine.
When other people hear about my autism, dyslexia and/or dyspraxia, they say things like “I’m so sorry” or “That must be really terrible for you”. They use words like “suffers” to describe my life with my brain and they tell me I’m “really brave” and “an inspiration” for getting a degree. Basically, they treat my life long learning differences as though they are inherently and always a bad thing. They talk over me and instead of listening to how I feel, they end up telling me how they feel and how they think I ought to feel.
They are scared and sad and confused. They don’t want a brain like mine so they imagine I don’t want it either. But I like my brain and it would be scary and sad and confusing for me to contemplate having a brain like theirs instead.

When I talk about my chronic illness and the physical limitations and pain and tiredness that go along with it, I still expect people to agree with me that chronic illness is awful and to be sympathetic. This isn’t usually what actually happens.
When I talk about my chronic illness, I talk about constant wide spread pain, persistent exhaustion, unfulfilling sleep that nontheless takes up 11 or 12 hours of my day. I talk about the sadness of seeing my ability to walk slowly fade away, the fear that words like “incurable” and “progressive” fill me with, the grief of having to contemplate that I will likely never walk without mobility aids again. I talk about not having enough energy to walk to and from the campus shop, of having to cancel plans with friends because I’m in too much pain to get out of bed. Frankly, I talk about how this is my lot in life and G-d seems to be taking the fucking piss by giving me all this to learn to live with.
People nod and look concerned and then tell me I need to exercise more. Or eat more fruit. That a “strapping young man” like me should be off playing football. That I should get out more or see more people. They suggest alternative therapies and guilt-trip me later for not trying them. They suggest the “obvious” healthy living advice (more exercise, better food, positive thinking) as if I wouldn’t have tried that first. They tell me to look on the bright side, they insist without evidence that a cure will be found soon, they outright tell me I could walk fine if I just tried harder. Again, people talk over me but this time it’s to minimise my experience, to make it sound less painful, less awful and more easy to fix. They never tell me I’m still valuable even if I can’t work, they tell me I’ll soon be able to work. They don’t tell me “That sounds really difficult to live with” they just insist that things will get better soon.

When I talk out my mental health problems, people don’t even know what to say.

All I can gather from this, years’ worth of evidence from countless conversations is that people have their own ideas about disability and illness and they’d rather believe them than listen to my actual experience. They’d rather believe that learning difficulties are awful and tragic than accept that I love my brain and they’d rather believe that chronic illnesses are temporary, easily cured and never affect the young than listen and help me with the grief that is forming part of my process of adapting.

I want to end on a positive note so I’d just like to say thank you to everyone who has ever listened to and accepted my own thoughts and feelings about my experiences of my impairments. You’re rarer than you should be and you make me feel like a real and valid person. Thank you.