Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Ségolène Royal: Busting Socialist Balls in France

801 words

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

Ségolène Royal's way ahead of the other Socialist candidates in France, at least according to the polls. I don't know why more of my French friends don't like her. The most approving thing I've heard so far was from this gay guy I know who thought it would be good for the country to have a woman President, but as far as enthusiasm went, I didn't detect any.

Maybe it's because her enemies have been pretty successful styling her as a bourgeois provincial and mother of four aiming to hijack her Party and drag it to the right. Or because the whole stiletto heel thing doesn't go over with dykes -- which is mostly who I know there.

As to a conservative underbelly, Ségo did grow up in a strange right-wing Catholic family with a father that kept his sons in military buzz cuts and under an excessive discipline. But I grew up Southern Baptist in Kentucky, and ended up a Lesbian Avenger in New York. So pooh pooh to families. Nurture isn't everything.

The most conservative thing Ségo's said so far was that it was time to quit talking about adolescent crime and do something about it, even if it meant sending teenagers to boot camp type programs rather than give them a slap on the hand and sending them home to watch TV. (No, jail wasn't an option.)

But regarding race and national identity, she's gone further left than most of her party in her recent declaration that French politicians should not distinguish between those who have "roots" in France, and those who don't, code language for those of immigrant descent. To Ségo, born to a colonial family in Senegal, if you're French, you're French.

To my surprise, she's also come out in support of gay marriage, which is more than most of her brethren can say. She's also supported campaigns against homophobia in schools. So as far as I'm concerned, vive Ségolène.

I think the real problem with Ségo is not that she strays too far from her ideologically unfocused party, but that she's going outside the party hierarchy, using American-style campaigning to deal with supporters directly, listening, thinking, responding through her interactive chat focused website Hopes for the Future and her "town hall" style meetings.

For the last couple of decades, the Socialists have been more the party of leftist academics and theoreticians than labor or "the people." As to the Socialist alliance with unions, the syndicates have tons of demos in France, but hardly anybody's unionized so who do they really represent? A very small minority, an elite, really. The average worker's out in the cold.

They don't even have a voice. It's the usual overeducated Socialist leader that studies the problems, gets up on a soapbox, pontificates a while, maybe even legislates something, then leaves the stage, equating action with words.

For instance, they've passed plenty of rules about gender parity, but do they put up women candidates for election? No! They'd rather fine themselves. And they're so far out of touch on questions of racism that even though the heads were gathered together in a national conference when banlieu riots erupted last fall, they didn't even issue a relevant press release. How could they as long as there was some punctuation that needed fixing, a semi-colon out of place?

The most "populist" thing they've done in recent times is oppose a ban on smoking, puffing themselves up as defenders of individual liberties. Screw all those people excluded from a public life because they need to breathe.

Ségo at least listens rather than talks. Her interactive website announces right up front, "I've become convinced that citizens -- because the problems are near to them, or because they're the ones hoping for progress -- are the only real legitimate "experts" on any of the questions facing us." Them's fighting words in France.

And as far as action goes, she was also one of the few Socialists that actually campaigned in 2005 for a "yes" vote to the European Constitution, which her party supposedly supported, but most bigwigs fled from.

In their primary on November 16, we'll know if the French Socialists have any credibility left at all. Will they pick the only candidate that can beat the leading conservative candidate, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, even if she strays from their orthodoxies? Or will they go for the loyal party man who'll get stomped at the polls, but has been anointed by the party bosses? It's hard to call.

When former PM Lionel Jospin, party hack extraordinaire, withdrew from the race a couple of weeks ago, he said he'd support anybody but "la candidate," the female candidate. What a lot of balls the old bastard has. But like the other candidates, he's short on almost everything else.

Anti-Bush Demo Bombs

803 words

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

So you build a wooden platform, rent some loudspeakers, line up a few orators, maybe even gather a couple hundred people in the park and denounce all the gazillion crappy things Bush has done, what then? Pat yourselves on the back and do it again next week? Sit and wait for change to spring up like an oil well and pour forth a multitude of blessings upon the people?

I went to a "World Can't Wait" demo the other day, and that seemed to be the general idea, hold enough of those things and we'll have a movement on our hands. Ha.

A couple of the speakers were okay, but the whole congratulatory thing had the stench of failure to it from the brass band that was supposed to liven up the lunchtime crowd with a pseudo-salsa ditty of "Sí, se puede," to the Irish guy singing about poor dead Johnny in a tenor he was obviously proud of.

Maybe I'd have had lower expectations if the organizers hadn't taken out an enormous ad in the New York Times whose extravagance seemed to promise thousands of participants, instead of a couple hundred artists types, an equal number of cops to monitor them, and a whole lot of insidious retirees with grey hair and not a few lethal canes and walkers.

To be fair, it got bigger later. Some high schoolers and college students came, a lot of the boys parading around with handkerchiefs over their faces like anarchists in Seattle, or Zapatistas, or cowboys. Like they were playing dress up.

The real problem was the speakers. There were some with family members in the armed services, some still serving, some dead in Iraq and Afghanistan, talking about the unjust war. They were okay. But there were far too many of the usual New York hetero lefty firebrands.

Instead of gearing their speeches towards the International Day Against Torture, the old gasbags dragged in their pet issues until there was a whole zoo arranged on the podium. I heard denunciations of low-income housing, national economic policy, hurricane Katrina, the stolen election, relations with Venezuela, American reliance on oil, the Iraqi dead, the American dead, and yes, a little something about torture. About the anti-gay marriage amendment, nothing.

One old time lefty speaker even held up Cuba as a model for resistance to American tyranny as if getting slapped in jail and tortured for your political beliefs were somehow more tolerable under a left-wing dictator than Bush and Co.

I left as depressed as before. Worse, really. A bad demo is more demoralizing than staying at home. One size doesn't fit all and half of the activists out there only have one model, and that's good old Martin Luther King, Jr., up there on a podium in front of a mobbed Washington mall declaring, "I have a dream."

Which is a powerful image, sure. Hell, it's good to be the King. The problem is activists get the form right: podium, loudspeaker, crowd, but ignore the rest. Like all those small churches the King preached in first, all the cups of bad coffee he drank strategizing, the many smaller actions. In other words, they forget there was groundwork done that both mobilized people, and boiled the issues down to the bone.

Imagine if King had stood up there going down an amorphous laundry list of racist atrocities in America, instead of offering the simple urgent proactive message of Equality, a call to stand for something, and not just against.

Effective demos -- and movements -- need simple messages. The anti-Bush crew could learn plenty from queer history. "We're here, we're queer, get used to it." "Silence Equals Death." The Lesbian Avengers stuck to lesbian visibility and survival.

Simplicity isn't enough, though. Activists could seize on one issue like torture, or the War in Iraq, and still fail. Because they don't see beyond Bush. His face is on every sign, his name in every speaker's mouth. What about when he's gone?

There's no proactive dream to rouse us, and what we're faced with at bottom is not Bush, but an America that elected him -- kinda -- twice. And now those idiots just sit at home waiting for him to go away and expecting the problems to follow him offstage. They won't. Call it a strategic failure on our part.

Coming home from the demo, I noticed the slogan on the back of my metro card, "SI VES ALGO, DI ALGO" "If you see something, say something," which is supposed to prevent terrorism, but mostly causes alarm over old tuna fish sandwiches and social studies homework.

The phrase works better as a political imperative. If you see something, say something. Though maybe think a little first, plan even. Then say it quick and to the point.