Bookfair, We Are Very Disappointed In You

[CN: This relates to our previous post on Julian Assange, sexual violence and rape apologism]

Following our recent statement about the Festival of Debate (FoD) event with Julian Assange, we contacted the Sheffield Anarchist Bookfair (SAB) collective, who are hosting their annual Bookfair on Saturday in collaboration with the FoD. We asked SAB to take a look at our statement and consider showing their public support and solidarity. They responded to say that they appreciated us bringing this issue to their attention, and that they had decided to put out a statement of their own. This is their statement (as yet unpublished):

‘Sheffield Anarchist Bookfair Collective have been made aware of a statement put out by Sheffield LaDIYfest in relation to a separate event organised by the Festival of Debate.  That statement is available here [link].  The Bookfair Collective share many of the concerns expressed in the statement.  Our involvement in the Festival of Debate does not entail endorsement, or indeed prior knowledge, of any other individual event taking place under the umbrella of the Festival of Debate (our only involvement is in the actual bookfair taking place this saturday and the fundraiser for that bookfair that took place on 15th April).

The main motivations behind the Sheffield Anarchist Bookfair are to increase radical political debate, to enable people to inform themselves and others, to meet, discuss, organise and take action. We welcome the contributions to wider political debate in Sheffield made by both the Festival of Debate and Sheffield LaDIYfest, whilst not necessarily supporting everything that either group does.

In order to enable wider critical engagement with the decision by Festival of Debate to include the event with Julian Assange, we are offering space and facilitation at the end of the bookfair on Saturday (5pm-6pm) if LaDIYfest would be willing to contribute to an open meeting to discuss why this decision is so problematic and the wider related political issues.  We do of course extend this invite to the Festival of Debate if they would like to participate in this discussion’.

We are incredibly disappointed with this statement. Although we appreciate that SAB may not have had prior knowledge of the events taking place at the FoD, we cannot agree that their involvement in the festival is entirely without endorsement. For example, the Anarchist Bookfair is named as a partner of the event on the publicity material, alongside its corporate sponsors, and there was a huge Festival of Debate banner at the fundraiser on April 15th.

Therefore it falls on the SAB collective, like any other group or organisation supporting the event, to make their position on the inclusion of Assange clear. While we did not ask, or expect, that they would pull out of the events altogether, we hoped that the bookfair collective would take this on board by publicly expressing support for the statement we issued, or to condemn Assange’s inclusion themselves. We don’t believe that hosting a meeting with FoD, as the SAB collective have suggested, would be productive, or is anything like a strong enough stance on this issue. In our original statement, we made it clear that in previous discussions with the FoD team we found them unsympathetic and their defense of Assange was inexcusable and quite shocking.

We understand the need for critical engagement around many issues, but we do not believe rape and sexual assault is one of those. As anarchists and, we would hope, feminists, how can we possibly pose the inclusion of a man accused of sexual assault as a point of discussion? To strive for critical engagement with an issue such as this is a privilege very few of us can afford, and a huge insult to anyone who is a survivor of sexual assault or rape.

We’re not convinced that the Bookfair would, for example, continue to support without statement, an event that included a talk by the CEO of a notoriously unethical corporation, or somebody who had been accused of acts of violent racism. We do not see how accusations of rape – one of the most violent and pervasive demonstrations of abuse of power – cannot be enough for the SAB collective to take a stand against the FoD board, who have chosen to press on with the event despite the resultant outcry.

It is vital for activist communities to show that we have a zero tolerance approach to sexual violence and rape apologism. We feel that the SAB’s statement reinforces, rather than challenges, these existing power structures. The Julian Assange case is a high-profile example of something that happens in the everyday of activist cultures. As this is such a persistent problem in our communities, more discussion and action is needed, and, at times like this (and always!), we need to condemn it in the clearest possible way. We had hoped that the SAB collective would stand by us in our opposition to this event and that together, alongside other aligned groups, we could fight for a Festival of Debate that, like so many before it, strives to be as inclusive and safe as possible. We hope we can still do this.

We offered to be on hand to discuss revising the statement but the collective have not taken us up on this offer. As a result, we want to make it clear, prior to the annual bookfair itself tomorrow, that the Bookfair collective is openly refusing to join the call for safer, more accessible spaces.

LaDIYfest Sheffield

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Open Letter re: Julian Assange Event / Festival of Debate

CN discussion of rape, rape apologism

We were troubled to find out about an event at the Sheffield Students’ Union hosting Julian Assange, which is being held as part of the Festival Of Debate (FoD). (https://www.facebook.com/festivalofdebate/posts/1721558878111934) / http://tickets.sheffieldstudentsunion.com/ents/event/9317/

Julian Assange continues to evade allegations of rape, unlawful coercion and molestation in Sweden. While prosecutors have now dropped their investigation into one accusation of sexual molestation and one of unlawful coercion because they ran out of time to question him, one outstanding allegation of rape is not due to expire until 2020. Assange has been hiding in the Ecuadorian embassy to resist arrest and extradition for trial since June 2012 – a timeline of the events surrounding the allegations can be found here. The UN arbitrary detention working group voted in February that Julian Assange is in ‘arbitrary detention’. This ruling has attracted outrage and is currently being challenged by the UK, with a decision on this appeal due soon.

The FoD event takes the form of an ‘in conversation / Q&A’-style discussion via video link, but it fails to recognise or explain the reasons for the video link – his choosing to take ‘political asylum’ in the Ecuadorian Embassy. The event description lauds Assange for the work he has done with Wikileaks, with absolutely no suggestion that the event will have a critical element. We believe Assange should not be offered opportunities to act as an authority on political issues without discussion of the rape allegations that so blatantly frame the manner in which the ‘debate’ is being held. The allegations must be central to the debate and cannot and must not be ignored or minimised by simplistically celebrating Assange.

We are angered that this is yet another public opportunity for Assange to evade accountability using his position of power. By overlooking these allegations entirely, the FoD event implicitly contributes to the silencing of rape and sexual assault survivors. It also lends credence to an overestimation of false rape allegations and the societal myth that women ‘cry rape’ with malicious intent. We believe that it is not a contradiction to recognise the work done to bring state surveillance to public attention (e.g. Wikileaks and anti-state whistleblowers, such as Ed Snowden and Chelsea Manning) whilst also prioritising the accounts of people who have survived sexual violence over those who have perpetrated it, and holding those who cause harm accountable. We are also concerned that this narrative plays into the over-simplification that anyone who does not stand with Assange must stand with the states and oppressive structures that would see him imprisoned. Women’s bodies and issues have long been mobilised by states to justify imperialist invasions and expansions of the prison industrial complex. We refuse to allow this to happen without the voices, needs and experiences of women who have experienced gendered violence. Instead we push for more open debates and discussions about sexual violence, possibilities of transformative justice and what constitutes meaningful social change for survivors.

LaDIYfest has previously collaborated with FoD and attended many of their events and believe that it has been a really positive thing for the city. While we realise that the festival’s focus on debate means that we should not expect to necessarily like or agree with every event, we feel that any ‘controversy’ in this case lies with the allegations of sexual violence perpetrated by Assange, rather than his work as a whistleblower and hence these must be addressed.

There is a persistent problem of acknowledging and responding to sexual violence in activist groups and communities on the Left. Sheffield Students’ Union and Festival of Debate have a responsibility to take a stance against rape culture.

We contacted Opus, the team behind the FoD, and met with two representatives to discuss our concerns. Those of us who attended the meeting found this a very difficult discussion.  One of the FoD organisers repeatedly defended Assange, claimed that it was ‘highly unlikely’ the allegations against him are true, painted Assange as the victim of these allegations, and showed a definite lack of understanding of the arguments we made and awareness of the information available.

FoD have invited LaDIYfest to submit a question for Kerry-Anne Mendoza, the interviewer, to pose to Assange. However, we feel that the question could be used by Assange and his team to reinforce his position and attempt to regain credibility. We believe one question at the end of a long conversation with Assange still minimises the importance of the allegations. We are also aware that on previous occasions, Assange was reported to have given dismissive and sarcastic responses to questions on these issues, and in some cases ‘repeatedly refused to answer questions’ altogether. Therefore, we have decided it will be in our best interests to remain uninvolved in the actual event.

While we are not organising anything specific ourselves, we want to create awareness and build solidarity around the issues we have discussed in this blog post. We want a critical response to this event, whether in the form of protest, petition, further co-signatures to this statement, or something else entirely. We also want those involved in organising FoD to recognise their responsibility not to perpetuate rape culture, and to take the concerns of those who have legitimate reservations about the political implications of their actions seriously. While we appreciate that FoD met with us to discuss the issues involved, the tone taken by some members of the organisation, along with the inaccurate implication that the activists involved had not done enough research, does not contribute to an amicable and frank exchange of views, or a ‘Festival of Debate’. Due to all the reasons covered in this statement, we will not be working with FoD, or associated organisations, until they have fully recognised our concerns. We urge you to do the same: if you are in agreement with us please get involved and help us show FoD that debate happens on the streets as well as in controlled environments!

LaDIYfest Sheffield

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Sample letter: Sheffield Council, renew Spearmint Rhino SEV licence

We support the dancers at Sheffield’s Spearmint Rhino, whose jobs may be under threat due to objections to the renewal of the club’s Sexual Entertainment Venue licence. If you’d like to write to Sheffield City Council to express your support for the renewal of the club’s licence, we’ve put together a sample letter which you can use. Edit away – your letter will be stronger if you make it your own. Letters or emails must be received by April 7th.

Email: licensingservice@sheffield.gov.uk

Write to:
Head of Licensing, Licensing Section
Block C, Staniforth Road Depot
Staniforth Road
Sheffield S9 3HD

SAMPLE LETTER

Suggested email title: I SUPPORT the renewal of Spearmint Rhino SEV licence

Dear Sir/Madam,
I am writing in support of the application for renewal of a Sexual Entertainment Venue license for Spearmint Rhino at 60 Brown Street, Sheffield, S1 2BS.

I believe that the venue does not violate the conditions for a renewal of its licence. The clientele of Spearmint Rhino do not increase levels of crime and disorder in the area, or disturb residents with noise pollution and anti-social behaviour. Standard bars and nightclubs in the city centre cause much greater inconvenience for local residents. Spearmint Rhino does not present concerns on the grounds of public nuisance or public safety.

The venue is not close to a school, nursery, place of worship, or hospital. Its late hours of operation mean that customers are not in the area at the same time as students of Freeman College or University Technical College Sheffield. The Spearmint Rhino premises are of neutral appearance and do not feature conspicuous advertisements. I do not believe the presence of this venue has a negative impact on the character of the city’s Cultural Industries Quarter.

Sheffield City Council has “statutory obligations in relation to disability race and gender”. Refusing to renew this application would have a disproportionate effect on women, who make up the greatest proportion of employees at the club.

I ask that you grant this application. Thank you for considering my letter of support.

Kind regards,

PERSONAL EVIDENCE

The following is from one of our letters:

‘I live less than five minutes from Spearmint Rhino and have never been bothered by its clientele. I do not feel nervous in the proximity of the venue and do not take different routes to avoid walking past it during the day or late at night. I have suffered harassment, groping and sexual threats in Sheffield, but not in the area surrounding Spearmint Rhino. I have been involved in feminist activism in Sheffield for many years and do not feel that the existence of the venue has a negative impact on women and non-binary people in the city.’

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Solidarity to Sheffield Sex Workers/Dancers

LaDIYfest Sheffield have been made aware that ‘Zero Option’ are calling on the Sheffield Council to reject the application for a renewal of the SEV (Sexual Entertainment Venue) licence from lap dancing club, Spearmint Rhino.

We encourage people to read a statement written by the Edinburgh Feminists when a similar situation arose in York the other year. Like the Edinburgh Feminists, we offer our solidarity to the dancers of the clubs under threat – we support their right to bodily autonomy and their right to work in safe conditions, and we oppose the campaign to take these women’s jobs away.

We would welcome opening up a safe dialogue not just with Zero Option, but with the women that any action would effect.

EDIT: We’ve put together a sample letter which you can use as the basis for your own letters of support. Letters and emails need to be received by 7 April – so get writing!

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Handy Gig Summary

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LaDIY Presents: Dirty Girl, Molar, Pale Kids, Nachthexen

Friday 24th June @ Audacious

Dirty Girl
https://www.facebook.com/dirtygirlbandyork/

Molar
https://molartheband.bandcamp.com/

Pale Kids
http://palekids.bandcamp.com/

Nachthexen
https://nachthexenpunx.bandcamp.com/

£5 donation on the door, no one will be turned away for lack of funds. LaDIY and TAAE operate a safe spaces policy, don’t be a douche or you will be asked to leave. BYOB.

Please remember to bring donations for our fookbank drive!

[FB Event]

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LaDIY Presents: Leggy / Pale Kids / Negative Midas Touch / End Of

Short notice on this one, but NOT TO BE MISSED so pls tell yr pals!

Friday 15th April at Audacious, 8pm:

Leggy [https://leggy.bandcamp.com/]
– Cincinnati dream punx, over here supporting Shonen Knife ♥ but playing a few solo shows, and this is one of them!

Pale Kids [http://palekids.bandcamp.com/]
– Your new favourite Durham band!

Negative Midas Touch [https://negativemidastouch.bandcamp.com/]
– Sheffield noisy power electrics ♥

End Of
– Sloppy and amazing punkish and grungey, new lughole birth.

£5 donation on the door, no one will be turned away for lack of funds. LaDIY and TAAE operate a safe spaces policy, don’t be a douche or you will be asked to leave. BYOB.

Please remember to bring donations for our fookbank drive!

[FB Event]

leggy2

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