Wednesday, 31 May 2017

The Price of LARP

Periodically discussion of the cost of LARP comes up. Recently I've heard it mentioned in relation to new comers to the hobby being suprised at the cost of a ticket to a weekend fest event and in relation to an event with a £220 ticket. 

Often this surprise comes from people who are less familiar with event organisation and who may not be aware of what their ticket money is going on. It can also be confusing because LARP doesn't always run to the same "economy of scale" as many other things - that is, bigger doesn't always mean cheaper. 
Rather than talk about exactly what costs a LARP organiser may face I've approached it from another angle, looking at what I would expect as a player with different price LARPs. This reflects some of the outgoings and behind the scenes costs of organising the event but can be a little a little easier to grasp since we are dealing with the finished product. 
I haven't included things like the cost of water and electricity, websites or other advertising, or basic printing as that is often folded in to other areas of the game like venue hire or infrastructure unless otherwise specified. 

Keep in mind that very few things are zero cost. It might seem as if getting uniforms for your NPCs is zero cost if you already own them from a previous game, but they did have to be initially purchased and so isn't always comparable to somebody starting off without the same basics. The experienced LARPer or organiser might have a few things in storage that they can pull out to keep costs down but it is rare to have everything you need and inevitably, money is going to have to be spent.

The £0 game
LARP can be run for £0 ticket cost. All you need for LARP is a bit of a setting, some character, and some players willing to RP at one another. These LARPs usually aren’t advertised and are really games and ideas run between groups of friends. They are generally fairly informal and probably don’t run over night due to accommodation needs. You can run a £0 LARP if you use publically available land or run in your own home. Food is not provided. Costume, props are either not considered necessary either because the setting is modern/suited to the environment or because people are happy and able to just imagine. Alternatively you may expect players to provide their own costume and props or have a ready stock of costume and props available, but this supposes that money has been spent previously.

The £5 game
Many university LARPs run for £5 a go and may be what people are thinking of when they cite this low price point. It usually means that you are using a low cost venue (i.e. a student union room or free hire room of a pub) or are making use of public outdoor space such as a woodland or park. In the case of a university LARP the set dressing and props can vary between basic and “quite good actually” but props, costume and set dressing have usually accumulated over time rather than being bought specifically for an event with the exception of one or two items. The £5 ticket cost usually covers consumables like printed items and any small props or costume items. Usually food isn’t provided and these events usually only last a few hours at a time.  When not supported by an already existing university society set dressing and prop availability may be more limited.
You could also run at this cost if you wanted to run as for the £0 game but have people chip in for food, or to be able to pay for one or two special prop items.

The£10-20 game. 
These games usually run for around half a day. Most of the ticket cost is going toward either a suitable venue plus some props OR food for players plus some props. You may find overnight games on this budget but the facilities are likely to be pretty basic and it is likely to be self catering. They may be larger games with player numbers in the 35+ category. If only one of food or venue is provided I would expect to see slightly more complex set dressing and props or for the venue to be a little more tailored to the game setting.

Ornithocracy - photo by Tom Garnet. one day games and a setting that worked well with a more basic venue.

The £20 - £40 game.
Normally at this point production values are getting a little higher. You may get a hired venue and some catering, especially at the top end of this price bracket and you would likely start to see a few specially made or bought props for the event and some attempts at set dressing. Generally these are going to be one day events as many would struggle to hire a venue with sleeping accommodation (or tent pitches) and provide catering and props in  this price bracket, though it is possible. An overnight event is likely to be the more basic sort of scout camp or camping only. Events backed by existing societies may be able to provide a little more in this price range due to having a store of existing costume and props that can help fill in the gaps between more specific items. The food may be basic, but should be tasty, expect buffet style meals.

The £40 – £70 game 
This is quite a big category but once we are charging over £40 a ticket there starts to be a lot more options for variation available to us from what type of site or venue to how it looks and what is provided for the players. There is no one thing I would expect a game in this category to look like but there are certain thing I would hope for and I would want these or the absence made clear at the time of booking.
This price group is likely to be made up of overnight or weekend games. It becomes feasible to book a venue with some sort of overnight accommodation or camping space with this budget. Most likely this is going to be for the sole use of the game, though in actuality this doesn’t always pan out due to public rights of way or “misunderstandings” with the site owners about what exactly sole use entails. This allows for a much more involved type of game and people might start to talk about “immersion” more here. (Immersion is definitely possible at the lower price point but it becomes easier when you can be choosier about your sites.)

 For smaller events with fewer than 75 players, I would be expecting some sort of catering though, for a weekend, that is going to be tight and may only be basic, especially at the lower end of the budget. Some self catering options are likely to be available. I would expect that, even if the venue or site doesn’t look quite as you would expect for the in game world for there to be some attempt at set dressing and/or a good level of props and monster/NPC costume sufficient to create a particular feel. Exactly how the money is spent is going to vary a lot depending on genre and setting details. For example, you may just have to accept and “hand wave” the fact that all your high status regency characters sleep in bunk rooms and eat in a shared dining space at canteen style tables but that’s ok or explained by the plot because you also have an actual dragon NPC as well as some highly terrifying and realistic xenomorphs to deal with.

Lager games or “fest style” games may not provide catering for their players but they have to pay for a larger site to support the number of players, may be having to pay extra for a generator, water access and waste disposal or even having to hire in amenities such as toilet blocks. Fest style games usually have a larger infrastructure which grows alongside the number of players and a larger crew who will also need access to the same amenities as players. Many fest systems have also invested in large props, costume and weapons for NPCs/monsters and possibly some larger semi-permanent structures or marquee style tents, in order to help create the game world and also house the larger quantity of items that are needed to run the game.

You occasionally find one day events in this price category but they are usually more “high end and may make use of specialist or exclusive locations that are particularly suited to the setting as well as high quality props or NPC costume and catering.

Split Worlds Ball photo by Tom Garnet, a short game may cost more if a special venue is used.

The £70 to £100 game
These are often much like the games described above but for larger numbers of players; larger venues with sleeping for 75+ people are often more expensive and in shorter supply. In this category, you also find games which are looking for more specific venues – while you can and will see events in scout camps in this price bracket, you will also often see events being held in manor houses and castles. This allows for creating a richer game environment. You are likely to also see higher production value – that is a consistently higher level of set dressing, props and NPC costume. These are usually weekend long fully catered events and you may expect the catering to be more tailored to the occasion.

You may find camping or scout camp style venues in this price point but you are likely to find a higher number of players (thus requiring paying for a larger site plus extra costs for amenities and a larger crew) and/or a higher quality of props, set dressing or NPC costume.

£100-200 games. 
This is a big flexible category and it largely comes down to how good and setting appropriate are the props, venue, costume and dressing and how big is the player base. It is not unusual to start seeing smaller games here – with player numbers bellow 20. The ability to provide a quality setting, with suitable accommodation for a small number of players often pushes the individual ticket price up. It can actually be difficult to find a site for use that accommodates a small number of people and has communal indoor and or outdoor spaces available for sole use without paying larger amounts, or accepting that you will be paying for beds that are not filled.
Indoor sleeping and good or thematically appropriate catering is almost certain at these events and deviations from this are usually for IC reasons. In some cases players may expect to be issued with costume or individual prop items.

Incarceration, Photo by Oliver Facey. Sometimes an immersive setting doesn't mean OC comfort.

£200+ games
Quality is everything here and again we are usually, but not always talking about smaller numbers of players. Whether a large or small game you can expect a fairly high quality of set dressing, props and of course plot to match – though this would be relative for the type of game. For example a high-end fest game may still be camping but you may be camping in organiser provided setting suitable tents or you may expect a very well kitted out dedicated monster crew with their own setting appropriate vehicles. A smaller game may have comfortable sleeping or less luxurious but thematically appropriate accommodation that still meets players OC needs well.  Unique and customised venues may appear here too – a specifically built or refurbished battleship for example or a carefully reconstructed medieval guild hall with all the trappings.

Of course there is a lot of variability in all these categories and the specifics will vary with the game and what is suitable for the players and the setting. £100 may buy you a comfortable bunk in a pretty manor house or it may provide you with a rough pallet in a disused warehouse made to look like the interior of a space station. The cost of a LARP ticket is ultimately paying for three things: setting accuracy, player facilities, and catering. Player facilities can expand to include admin and support crew for larger games as well as food while setting accuracy is everything from the type of building and site to the costume NPCs wear.

the "GOD" tent at Empire photo by Paul Wilder. The bigger the event, the bigger the support crew needed
Budgeting any LARP is a case of balancing these three needs with the money available, the game you want to run and how attractive it all is to your players.  Of course a game is nothing without good plot and writing to say nothing of the players. Price never guarantees a good game or good writing, though you would hope that the higher ticket events can provide a good experience. It is absolutely possible though, with the right group of people and a good setting and plot that you can have a great LARPings experience for free. That isn’t to say that spending money on props and setting is a bad thing, and many people enjoy being able to physically interact with their game world. There is no right and wrong or perfect budget for a LARP. Imagination only is not inherently superior or inferior to creating bespoke settings and many players enjoy the opportunity to play with both styles of LARPing.

Ideally we would like games to be accessible to everybody, not just in terms of disability access, but in terms of financial access too. However, we live in a world where things cost money and that means that the more we want to physically add to a game the more the organisers have to pay and this cost is inevitably reflected in the ticket price. There are few organisers that run LARP games professionally and take a wage and the vast majority of labour, from writing to running around, is undertaken by unpaid volunteers. Of those that do take a wage or make a profit this reflects the amounts of time and effort that is put in to running their games and profit is usually reinvested in the games for future improvements. It’s difficult to begrudge somebody who is spending hours working every day on a project to want to be recompensed for it. There are many who would like to see some sort of recompense built in to LARP pricing in order to value the work done by organisers and staff, yet at the same time we know that that would make the hobby unfeasible for many players on financial grounds. 

It is sad when there are games which sound fabulous that we have to pass on because they cost to much, but we should remember that that upper limit varies a lot and there are some people that £35 for a day’s event is out of their reach. There is no way we can draw a line that says “this is the upper limit of what people should pay for a LARP”. What we can do is continue to run the games we want to play and to continue to have a grassroots style game community which offers a range of different genres, styles and prices of games that people can choose from. We can also make sure that we don’t think of cheaper games as inferior, both as players and as organisers. There are dozens of games out there in the lower price bands that have been successful and satisfied people’s desire for good roleplay. This means that even if you can’t afford the four day immersive space station LARP with bespoke uniforms, you know you are still able to enjoy quality games that are never lesser and are merely different. 

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Your Accessibility Needs to be Accessible

So I went swimming today as I do every week. I go to my local leisure centre (local council run swimming baths and sports facilities for none UK readers) and it’s generally OK. It is a recent build and they actually thought about accessibility when building it. It’s all level access or accessible by lift. There is a well equipped hydrotherapy pool (which I use sometimes) with winch and step free access ad two adjoining disabled changing rooms.
The main pool also has winch access and two accessible changing rooms adjoining the general changing room.
The Accessible Changing Rooms (hereby shorted to ACR for ease) have beds, toilets, loads of grab bars, adjustable shower with shower seat, wheelchair and electric winch. Really good.

The problem is, that an ACR is not accessible if you don’t allow access to people who need it.
Whilst the hydrotherapy pool needs to be booked in advance so you know when to open up that pool and the adjoining ACRs for use, the main pool is, during it's general swimming hours, open to everybody. Perhaps you don't realise it, but that everybody includes a number of people who are disabled or otherwise have accessibility needs.

I regularly attend the General Lane Swimming session on a Wednesday. It's the time anybody can come along and swim lengths. The lanes are labelled slow, medium and fast. It's a broad range of users. There is usually at least one other walking stick propped up next to the steps when I go to swim. There is a guy with a prosthetic leg who regularly swims at that time. They are just the easily visible people. There are going to be others with invisible disabilities as well.

We need those rooms to be open and accessible. When they aren't they make swimming, which may be our only form of exercise or part of rehab or physiotherapy, at best more difficult and at worst impossible for us.

I have fairly limited needs when it comes to an ACR but I still benefit from them. I have pain and stiffness in my limbs which can make manoeuvre in a normal small cubicle difficult and painful. I get dizzy and wobbly and benefit from extra grab rails as a safety feature. My muscles spasm and seize and being able to sit under a hot directed shower helps to reduce the issue. I need to dig out medication and find it easier when I can lay things out in the space provided. 

There are people with far greater needs than me who don't look disabled and who don't attend a special "disabled swim session". Those accessible changing rooms need to be accessible. Otherwise this happens.

I pay at the front desk, I walk to the pool area, I walk down the corridor to the changing room and it's locked. Not in use. Locked.
So I go to the second accessible room. That's locked too.
That means I have to retrace my steps back along the corridor to the front desk to ask somebody to unlock the door. Then walk back to the room in order to use it.
They unlock the room, explain they've locked them because groups of teenagers have been in there "making a mess". I point out that maybe that makes it a touch inaccessible for those who need it.

Anyway, I grumble, change, shove my stuff in a locker, swim, come back, grab my things from my locker. I am now tired and wobbly due to swimming. I am wet and cooling down. I am holding a bag of stuff and my boots. 
And the room I used is occupied. OK fair enough, there are a number of disabled people who swim at this time.
So I go to the other changing room.
Which is still locked. Not occupied. Locked.
So I, dripping, wet, getting cold, with all my belongings, can't go back to the reception go to the poolside and tell a member of staff there. They can't leave poolside but can radio to reception.
And then I have to stand, dripping wet, wobbling a bit, clutching my boots, waiting for somebody to come with keys, and watch as they saunter casually toward me to oh so graciously grant me access to the accessible changing room.
For somebody with fatigue and pain problems this is a huge deal and can change the pace of the entire day and disrupt the benefit of swimming at all.

I was told that they are being kept locked because when it's busy, there have been groups of people using it who shouldn't be in there. Groups of kids or teenagers messing around. So in order to stop them making a mess, they are locked. I was told that if the room was needed we could ask at the front desk. Of course, nobody tells you this at the front desk. There is no sign or inquiry. It also places extra responsibility on the customer. Do able bodied patrons have to ask to be allowed to use a changing room? Do able bodied people need to wait for somebody with keys to come along? What are we supposed to do if, and I know this may be hard to believe; more than one disabled person wants to swim at the same time?
Do doors get locked immediately after we leave? Will there be somebody to unlock the doors on our return so, when dripping wet and trying to balance our bag, there is a room free for us to dry and dress in?

Your accessibility has to be accessible and that means that you can't just rely on the building having the right facilities. You have to consider who actually uses those facilities and why. You need to make sure that your policies, staffing and actions are suitable and fit for use. 

This leads on to another issue I encountered, one which comes up almost every time I'm at this particular place. To be fair it comes up in almost every other accessible bathroom or changing room I visit too. Emergency cords. You know, those long red cords that hang from the ceiling with a red toggle on them? Those things. They are designed so that if somebody using the ACR falls, becomes stuck or otherwise needs emergency assistance, they can pull on it and an alarm will sound. As with any other accessibility feature, it has to be accessible to be functional. all to often they are not.

Tell me, how accessible do these look to you? If you are able bodied, imagine you have had a fall and are stuck on the floor. Imagine your muscles have gone i to spasm allowing only a small range of movement. Imagine your hip has dislocated and you can only move a short distance. Imagine you need help but you are unable to raise your arms above shoulder height. 

Do you think you could reach these? Do you think these are going to help somebody in an emergency? They are literally not accessible what ever their original intention was. These pictures were all taken on the same day at the same location, the leisure centre I regularly use. This is an issue every single time I visit and is something I bring up with the staff regularly. I am always promised that it won't happen again. That staff an cleaners will be reminded and yet ...
This isn't an isolated issue. As I say I see it in almost every facility I have used. It is such an issue that there is an entire campaign with handy cards dedicated to it

image from Euan's Guide
I have only ever seen one of these in the wild and it was in the Accessible Loo in the cafe 200 Deg in Leeds who tell me that it is their policy to have one in each store to keep it accessible. This is a brilliant example of how easy and how beneficial it is to actually think about accessibility (and is one of the reasons I have become a very loyal customer of theirs).

This isn't formatted as an open letter to the, but a letter with very similar content is going to be set to the leisure centre in question. For now I will probably still go there because that's the option I have but I want to see some changes.

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

The Quiet Protest (or 9 reasons people don't go to a demo)

Protests, demos and marches are everywhere right now, and for good reason. For many people the world has become a scary and unsafe place. For others there is anger and frustration over current affairs and politics. This is becoming a global issue, not isolated to the US or the UK but across the globe as people begin to take a stand against all manner of injustices.
This is big, it is powerful and many would argue necessary.

But there are many who don't take to the streets or twitter accounts. There is a temptation from those who do wave placards to label those who don't as uncaring, passive or even as tacitly supporting the very people with protest against. For those whose only engagement is through Facebook posts, the sharing of news stories and pictures or signing an online petition, there are terms thrown around like "slactivism" and "passactivism" often with a sneer. The implication of course is that you are only making a difference if you go on a march. You only care if you are at a demo. That social media posts don't count and are lazy or disingenuous. It labels the people who don't stand up as uncaring and shallow.

The problem is, of course, that those assumptions are often far from the truth and are a form of one-upmanship which can often slide into the dangerous territory of prejudice as we scorn those who are unable to do what we think is "proper". This is because the ability to be able to go to a protest or march is often due to certain privileges the person has. There are many reasons that somebody simply can't or choose not to do the type of visible active protests they would want to do.
So let's have a good old fashioned list.

1. Standing up is not an option

You may have noticed the above paragraphs are littered with words like "stand up" and "active". That's deliberate. A very common reason for not going to a protest id because you are simply not physically able to. There are dozens of physical impairments that mean standing outside in the cold or walking a mile down a road in a crowd is difficult or impossible.
Like me, people may get severe fatigue or pain from standing and walking for extended periods, or they may already be suffering pain and fatigue from their daily activities and not be able to leave the house for a march. Other's may have arthritis, mobility issues, or back pain.
Even those who use wheelchairs and scooters or crutches can struggle. Not all locations are wheelchair or crutch accessible. Plus, moving through crowds is difficult and dangerous when on wheels or crutches. It is easy to get knocked or trodden on and in a tight packed crowd crutches and sticks are too easily knocked or tripped over.

2. Fear of arrest or targeted attack

It is clear to most by now that authorities (in the UK and US at the very least) treat black demonstrators very differently to how they treat white (or white passing) demonstrators. This is obvious even in news reports when black protests are often described in violent terms or as devolving in to unrest compared to similar gatherings of white people being called demonstrations and protests, or in the case of violence, as "erupting in high spirits". It would seem fair then that there are many black people who can legitimately say they would rather not take to the street as they do not want to at best be labelled a rioter or at worst beaten and arrested or even, as has been the case at some US demos, shot and killed.
This extends to other visible minorities. Hijab wearing women fear being assaulted or forcefully deveiled. Brown skinned people from the Arabian peninsular (or who are assumed to be from there) fear assault and harassment, and those men with beards in particular fear being arrested under so called "anti-terror" laws.
It should be noted that these fears are not paranoia and there are many examples from a number of countries of people being assaulted for representing a minority. These fears may vary country to country depending on the local sociopolitical situation.
I'm referencing skin colour, ethnicity and religion here - other issues are covered in other points.

3. Being "outed" unwillingly.

People who are trans, gay, lesbian, bisexual intersex or queer are often selective in who they are out too, and for good reason. Even though we are solidly in to the 21st century attitudes toward LGBTQAI people are still astoundingly poor with people being denied basic rights, not being legally recognised, forceful conversion therapies still being legal in some places and outright abuse and hatred in others. If it was easy to be openly trans, gay or queer there wouldn't be the need to protest these issues.
The sad thing is that we do still need to campaign and protest these issues, but often the very people they are for do not feel safe attending. There is a very real threat of violence, harassment and assault, and it is not limited to the time and place of the protest. For those who are not out to everybody or indeed anybody, attending a protest risks outing yourself involuntarily. At the very least people may question why you were there leading to difficult questioning about who they are. While in the UK people may not legally be fired for being LGBTQ+ that doesn't mean it doesn't happen. In other countries the laws aren't even there. Attending a rally can put a person at risk of ongoing repercussion should homophobic or transphobic people see you there and make assumptions.
Physical risk at the time and the risk of lessened job security or losing housing is simply not a risk some people are able to take, nor should they be expected to.

4. The delights of misogyny 

Sexual harassment of women or people who present as female is a thing that happens. I cannot be denied or ignored. The reaction of authorities and other members of the public to the opinions of women is also frequently coloured by misogyny. At best this can mean biased reporting or the use of sexist remarks and language, that belittle the voices of female protest. At worst this can lead to sustained violence against female protesters and public outrage that women would dare to speak up about issues that have long been overlooked as has been the case at some Indian protests over rape laws.
On a more individual level many women or wary of going to protests for fear of sexual harassment or assault from other protesters. It is a sad truth that even in a large crowd of seemingly like minded people there are those that will take the opportunity of close proximity to grope and harass female presenting protesters.
With these risks in mind it is clear that many women or femme presenting people may hesitate before taking part in a public demonstration.

5. Socioeconomic, finances and class.

In some ways, many protests can be the privilege of people who have relative economic security. This may be buffered by other factors such as race and gender, which often go hand in hand with job security and wages. As noted above there are some people who fear losing their only source of income if they are spotted being at a demo their employer does not support or if it outs them as being an unwanted demographic.
Furthermore there are some people who simply can't take the time of work to go to a demo. They work night shifts, evenings weekends or have to accept the hours given to them. They may not be given sick pay or paid leave so taking the time off simply isn't financially viable. There are also people with families who may not want to take their entire family to a protest but can not afford the child care necessarily to be able to go, or value the time with their children, especially if they work long hours or multiple jobs. Additionally there are those who can not afford or do not have the transport needed to get to the demos. Many demos only happen in one or two cities in any given country, or only in larger cities. For those that live further away this just isn't practical.

6. Religion

Some difficulties faced by Muslim protesters have already come up in other points: fear of arrest or attack, fear of unveiling etc but there are other concerns. There are other religious groups that may encounter difficulty protesting. Many planned demos in the UK and US are scheduled for Saturdays, on the assumption that less people are working (though not everybody is off, see the above point). However for practicing Jews Saturday is Shabbat, a day of rest and prayer. This may not restrict some Jewish people from protesting but depending on how orthodox or traditional the person is they may not be able to join a protest or will have other commitments such as attending temple. Similarly Friday protests may be difficult for Muslim people to attend if they take part in Friday Prayer and may be counted as a day of rest for some groups. Consider also the period of Ramadan or the day of Yom Kippur and other fast days in Judaism and how that may impact on a person's ability to fast. During fast days people are generally recommended not to take part in any activity that causes exertion: standing for hours or walking with a large crowd can be surprisingly taxing on the body especially in particularly hot or cold weather and would not be recommended for a person who is fasting. A person may choose to break fast for a particularly important demo but they should not be judged for carefully balancing their religious obligations with the priorities of a demo, especially not when there are other ways of showing support to a cause.
I have to admit here that I don't know enough about other religious such as Hinduism, Sikhism,  Buddhism other world religions and various indigenous beliefs to say if there are any aspects which may make attending a demo difficult. However we should probably understand that there may well be and we shouldn't judge.

7. Neurodivergance and Mental Health

I hesitated initially to group these together however in my experience there is sufficient overlap to make it work. Protests, demos, rallies and marches tend to be busy, crowded, loud and a bit chaotic overlaid with a whole host of emotions and energy. For anybody with an anxiety disorder or with sensory processing issues this is a nightmare. They simply can not cope with these situations without experiencing severe stress, anxiety or meltdown. Other people may not be able to attend without a trusted individual to act as support or a carer who isn't available for that day or isn't willing or able (in the case of an employed carer) to attend. Protests tend to be highly emotional affairs on difficult issues which can cause a lot of distress to people. Many people simply can not cope with the emotions and mental fortitude required of in-person demos. Especially now in many western countries, people are feeling ground down by a long series of negative world and national events and it would be damaging to their mental health and wellbeing to attend. Smaller more controlled methods of activism are better suited.
There is also the issue of executive function - that is, the ability to plan, carry out tasks and follow through on activities and daily tasks - which can be impaired for a number of reasons including Autistic Spectrum Disorders, dyslexia and dyspraxia, ADD, bipolar disorder, depression, and a number of other issues. Going to a demo involves finding out the time, date and place, checking you are available, scheduling it, remembering it, organising your day accordingly, organising transport,making or arranging any placards or other things you are taking, dressing appropriately, packing snacks and water, meeting friends and getting home. That's a lot to deal with for anybody but can be an insurmountable list of tasks for somebody with executive dysfunction. Even those who want to and plan to  go to a demo may not be able to make it on the day if they are struggling with what is needed. Often prioritising basic self care is more important.

8. Employment obligations and status

There are a number of individuals who do not feel that they can attend a protest or who may be contractually obliged not to visibly attend political rallies. This is particularly apparent in anything which directly shows support for or protests against political parties or representatives. Those who may need to show neutrality include civil servants, especially those who work in the House of Commons; people in the armed forces, especially those who are more senior; police, teachers and doctors, who need to maintain a professional and unbiased working relationship with the public. Certainly there are people from all these professions who can and do attend rallies however, they must all personally weigh up the pros and cons of attending at each individual demo and consider if it is suitable for them or if it will jeopardise their career, safety, their influence or the protest itself. Consider example a senior policeman who attends a demo about racism. It is a strong message and something that is good to see, however, if they are recognised by a member of the public, either at the demo or a counter-demo , who later needs to be questioned by the police it could compromise investigations or make the interview more difficult.
Often when we see police in uniform on the side of a protest, or legal professionals, or military personnel holding a banner, it is a very strong message because those individuals have to be willing and able to defend their personal beliefs and reconcile them with their professional duty and reputation.

9. Seeing and hearing

Those who are deaf or hard-of-hearing often struggle at demos and rallies as the vast majority of the information being shared is audio. Even for those with hearing in the normal range it can be difficult to hear what is going on over crowd noise, traffic and through poor quality amps and megaphones. If you are hearing impaired it can become impossible to hear what is being said and to engage fully with the protest. It can even become painful and disorienting. It is rare that speakers are accompanied by a sign interpreter or that a closed caption system is available (requiring monitors) and even if they are they may not be visible from in the crowd. 
Those who are vision impaired can find being at crowded rallies extremely difficult as there is often no clear path as people mill about. It can become hazerdous or disorienting without a guide and guide dogs may not be suited to the conditions. They may not be able to provide banners or signs and can not read or see other visual aspects of the demo thus not feeling they can fully engage. 
There may be other methods of demonstration suited to those who are hearing or vision impaired. 

The quiet protest

Keep in mind that every voice that speaks out on an issue whether online or down the pub is contributing to protest. Every signature on a petition is a voice made clear. Projects like Millions Missing that used empty shoes to represent those who couldn't attend and organised simultaneous timed Twitter posts provide creative ways for people to get involved. People are writing to their MPs and attending local meetings. There is even the notion that, for those who really struggle to get involved in activism, that merely existing and being in anyway visible if you are part of a minority or targeted group is a form of protest. And that's awesome. 
Standing in front of a town hall is just one way of pushing back. Support and hold up every fight no matter how small and quiet. They add up to a rebellion.

If you are organising a demo or other activism and want to make it more accessible, especially to disabled people, then you can read my post on Accessible Activism

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Guest post: Why These Fascists Are Not Like Those Fascists

A note from AxesnYarn: The following post is a guest post by a friend of mine. Inspired and rallied by their writing on their personal page I offered them a Guest Post spot. All that follow are their words. As always please comment and treat with respect. 

Content Note for discussion about fascism, islamophobia, Nazis, the American Election and related topics, but actually in my opinion this is a hopeful post. 

I want to talk about Fascism, and why These Fascists Are Not Like Those Fascists.

I first wrote this in my own bubble. Pen asked if I would be interested in making it more widely available through their blog. So, before I begin, I want to introduce myself a little bit to people who don’t know anything about me. I am writing from a relative position of privilege, specifically in terms of wealth, class and education, as well as conditional White privilege. I am also Jewish, queer and mostly invisibly disabled. Because of my family background and personal circumstances I have been spending a lot of this last year thinking about parallels between our current political situation and Hitler’s rise to power.

So I am one of the first one to find the swastikas and literal fascism of the past few months horrendous. But… actually, this is NOT how Nazi Germany Happened. It's important to understand that for all the parallels you can draw and how terrifying that is, this is terrifying for all its own reasons.

The German National Socialists were a fringe minority party who gained power slowly through the build up of several elections from 1919. They had an active, uniformed paramilitary right from 1919, initially formed from mostly WW1 veterans.

Germany was in an internationally marginalised position in the global community.

Fascist views in Germany never split populations close to 50/50 in the way that both Trump and Brexit have. This is key, because it means that solutions such as using constitutional process like the electoral college to refuse to elect Trump in America or Parliamentary votes against Brexit in the UK don't actually make the problem of rising fascism go away. Slightly under 50% of the population will feel increasingly (if potentially falsely) disenfranchised if that sort of action is taken. That is likely to increase polarisation and potentially violence.

The difference between a mob and a paramilitary is that at least someone is steering the fucking paramilitary.

Also, importantly: this has not been caused by complacency and failure to see what's been happening. Approximately 50% of voters have noticed, woah, this seems to be a slide into fascism. Populations are not complacent, they are polarised.

Importantly, and I've said this in a couple of other places, tools that were developed for fighting fascism in the 40s or the 80s are not necessarily going to be relevant today. We live in a world of 24 hour news coverage and social media; the issue is often over-saturation and compassion-blindness / compassion-fatigue, not invisibility of the issues to hand. Especially inside our bubbles. It is incredibly easy to look at the past and say, people should have spoken up more, then. And to try to fix that problem with our actions today. We can’t fix that problem, and this problem is different.

In a world where outrage is cheap and painful and truth easily dismissable we need to get really damn good at Snopesing before we share. Especially those of us in a position of educational privilege. We have the advantage of holding a position which has integrity, let’s make use of it.

I am trying to think before posting why am I posting this? What action, answer, change or response do I expect to come out of this post? If I am shocked, upset, outraged and my instinct is to share that feeling (and it is my instinct, fuck me I've resisted sharing images of swastikas and stories of hijabi women being assaulted alllll fucking morning) then I need to acknowledge that what I am doing is increasing the amount of shock, outrage, upset and pain in my community. Which is sometimes necessary, but a good question I am trying to use is, to what end?.

We do not know what the tools to fight fascism that looks like this look like yet. That's ok. In the 80s, my parents knew that the tools that their parents had used were also out of date.

Anger is good. Love is good. Action is good. Reflection is good. Communication is good. Silence is good. There is no right way to hold up my ideals, and that is fundamental to the nature of my ideals.

We haven't fucked up and we haven't failed. I wrote it in fiction – some of you might recognise these words from a different context - but these times come round and these times come round again. We've done it as tragedy. We've even done it as farce. This is familiar, yes, shockingly uncomfortably, boringly familiar.

But it's also absolutely brand terrifying new. Don't forget that either.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Us and Them and Me

NB: This is quite a personal and emotional blog post. It is written in one go to express some very real experiences. It may not be scholarly, objective or properly cited but that makes it no less true or valid.

Talk about the US election and indeed politics in the UK has brought up the concept of "elitism" and perceptions of people considered "educated". This is a big thing that needs to be considered carefully.

I want though, to talk about these concepts in an area which is more personal to me and also that highlights the duality of stereotypes that can occur.
As most of you know I had my PIP assessment on Tuesday - a benefit I need as I have a chronic illness and am unable to work and can be considered disabled due to my limitations.
A phrase that came up during the interview was "I can see you are well educated and intelligent ..." which in this scenario was deemed to be a good thing.

Being seen as intelligent, articulate and educated is a social privilege in this country. It means I get taken more seriously and that people are more willing to listen to me. It means that PIP assessors are willing to explain things and talk over issues in depth. It means that my cognitive disabilities are considered with empathy and in comparison to what I used to be capable of: I am not seen as merely stupid but that there is a marked difference between what I am clearly capable of and the stuttered half sentences I produce in person these days.

It means that I am also viewed as probably honest, as not "lazy", as more likely to genuinely be ill and disabled and in need of help. It means I can articulate my concerns and navigate the buracracy (though I can still never spell it) on their terms. Consequently I am more likely to be believed and treated fairly. That is a privilege I am lucky to have.

Yet at the same time I am seen as not really poor (thanks to my partner we are not) or in need. No matter how hard my living situation, how desperately I need a government who cares about me and who will provide. No matter that I have had times when I have had to choose between food and heating. No matter that I am treated like a waste of space, a liar, a cheat, a fraud, a burden by large parts of the country I am still, because I can type it out with some eloquence and because I went to university, one of the elite. I am not one of them. I am not one of the people. I couldn't possibly understand (and sometimes I don't) what people go through, and more damning, it's perceived that I couldn't possibly care. 

Classicism in the UK, as developed in the 19thC, matured through the mid 20thC and violently clashed in the 1980s doesn't exist anymore. Now we have elitism. We have educationism. We still live in a world that expects an attitude of "well we're not like /them/" regardless of money and income. We live in a world where we can expect preferential treatment from one group of people whilst being scorned by another and still not afforded any institutional compassion because of artificial descriptors that separate Us from Them. I will be treated nicely because of my education which makes me a part of the Us but, ultimately, I will be cast aside by the government because people like Us don't need benefits. People like Us don't need assistance. People like Them are lazy and undeserving. Only people like Them would dare ask for social security. If you have the nerve to ask for a little more then you must be one of Them.

But we'll at least tell you politely.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

There's No One Way

I see an awful lot of blog posts and Facebook and Tumblr comments that say something along the lines of "Vegans are stupid because they do X" or "if vegans really cared about X then they'd Y". 
It's frustrating and insulting.
For starters it makes assumptions that all people who are vegan think as a hive mind. Secondly, it assumes that veganism is completely black and white, that once a person has decided to be vegan a switch is flipped in their brain that has toggled all decisions to a single "vegan" answer and that there is absolutely no variation or wiggle room at all. 

OK some vegans act like that I won't lie. But the truth is most vegans wish it were as simple as flipping a switch. The reality is never black and white, and vegans are making a huge number of considered choices in many aspects of their life. 
That's what this post is all about. It's for other vegans as well as non vegans to break down the reasons people may be vegan and how that is going to affect the decisions they make. Hopefully by the end of it you will agree that statements that argue about "vegan choices" don't make a lot of sense and can be confusing and frustrating for people to encounter.

So we need to consider two different things: 
  • The reason why somebody may be vegan
  • The circumstances and environment they live in
The first group may be obvious - the reasons people have for going vegan will influence how they approach being vegan. The second group, their circumstances, is less obvious so that's where I am going to start.

Our circumstances are always going to have a huge impact on how we do anything at all. Consider the country you live in and what is considered normal or not there. that will influence you. Consider what goods are easily available and how the economy and retail work for the majority of people. That will influence you. Consider your upbringing, your health, your time allowances, your financial security and so on. All of these things will impact on how you live your life and will alter some of the decisions you make being a vegan.
Can you afford to buy certain products? Do you have the time to cook from scratch? Do you live in a country whose infrastructure relies heavily on certain processes? 
All these things often mean that a person can not act in absolutes and will often have to make compromises. Ideally they would never use anything that contains an animal product but can they really ascertain if the glue used in the upholstery of the buses they rely on is animal free? What about in the books they read and so on. That's an extreme but it is an example of how absolutely can be hard to attain for most people living in a western society. A vegan has to make compromises and allowances somewhere.

Generally they are doing the best they can to meet their personal values within the confines and restrictions of their circumstances. 

The first point is something more of you may be familiar with, and that is that there are numerous reasons a person may decide to be vegan. Some of them are intimately related to circumstances and some exist in spite of. So let's look them in more detail.

The Healthy Lifestyle Vegan

These vegans are primarily focused on living what they define as a “healthy life” and believe that a diet free of animal products is a part of that. Outside of specific medical concerns (which I'll cover later) a Healthy Lifestyle Vegan is concerned with the possible health benefits of a vegan diet. For this reason they usually lean heavily toward cooking everything from scratch, using raw ingredients and having a very nutritionally balanced diet. You may find Healthy Lifestyle Vegans also explore and adopt concepts like raw diets, clean eating, paleo diets, non-celiac gluten free and other novel food concepts. They may also be keen on other things perceived to be more "natural" such as not using "chemical"* cleaning products, using essential oils or herbal remedies and even in some cases homeopathy and anti-vaxx.
There is nothing inherently wrong with believing that a vegan diet can be good for you and a properly balanced nutritionally sound vegan diet can be as good if not better than an omnivore diet. This is often down to the care taken in choosing ingredients and the attention paid to the nutritional balance, which of course can be a part of an omni diet. 
It is also worth keeping in mind that other health beliefs are not inherently vegan in themselves even if for the Healthy Lifestyle Vegan they are closely associated. 
A HVL may be happy using animal products in other places such as leathers, lactose found in body products, and even beeswax and honey, especially if they value any health benefits of honey.

The Medical Needs Vegan

Though these people are vegan for health reasons they aren't to be confused with HLVs. This group is people who came to a vegan diet out of necessity due to specific health concerns and issues. For some that may be allergies or intolerance to ingredients such as dairy and eggs. Where it is a dairy protein allergy the individual may also have reactions to meat as well. 
The severity and number of allergies and intolerances may mean that eating a vegan diet is essential to avoid sickness, allergic reaction or even anaphylaxis. For others it is more about convenience. It can be difficult to tell if the concentration of the allergen in any one item (for example butter in a baked good, or whey in pre-packaged potato crisps) is enough to trigger a reaction and so it is more convenient and safer for them to choose to avoid all instances of the offending item.
In some cases a person may already by vegetarian or have a low meat diet and the necessity of cutting out dairy and eggs, for example, may mean that eating vegan is again, simpler.
As well as allergens there are people with specific gastrointestinal conditions which mean that certain food items need to be avoided or a low meat or low dairy diet is needed. Often this may take the form of low residue food, low fat and low protein. Similarly their are low-inflammatory diets, and high energy, or symptom management diets recommended to people with chronic conditions such as rheumatism, fibromyalgia and ME. A vegan diet can be a good way of achieving this for some people, and even then there may be additional modifications they need to make such as avoiding onions.**
This becomes especially true if you need to buy a lot of pre-packaged food, i.e. you can't cook everything from scratch, or if you are eating out or relying on others to cook for you. Having to check every label or explain all the things that need to be avoided can be difficult and even upsetting. 
Unlike HLVs, vegans in this group have some very specific concerns and needs. However as with the first group they may not avoid animal products in other areas such as body care and home cleaning products. 

These two groups often get called 'dietary vegans' as their veganism is confined to their diets and may not extend to other areas of their life. Some may argue that this means they are not "true" vegans but as you'll see it's very difficult to define what a "true" vegan is and for most everyday needs these people are vegan.

* Don't worry I know that everything is chemicals. I also know that natural chemical does not necessarily mean safer or better than synthetic chemicals. Hence the quotation marks.
** I also recognise that the very opposite can be true. There are some people whose health conditions mean that they can not be vegan as they have difficulty digesting or are allergic or sensitive to a lot of common vegan ingredients. If somebody can not be vegan due to health reasons you should never give them a hard time about it. But then you shouldn't be giving people a hard time about what they eat or don't eat anyway.

The next three categories are possibly best described as "lifestyle vegans" those for whom their veganism extends past the kitchen and their food and in to other areas of their life.

The Animal Ethics Vegan

This is the vegan that most people are familiar with and think of when somebody says they are vegan. For the most part they share two common principals:
  • There is no need for humans to eat meat
  • The keeping of animals for the production of things for human benefit is wrong
The strength and specific interpretation of these principals may vary by individual but they are usually present to some extent. They do not consume any product that has come from an animal. Mostly. Because there are some who think products from animals that died naturally are ok, and there are some who don't. There are some who think products from wild hunted animals are ok and there are some who don't. There are some who agree with feral and wild animal culls and there are some who don't. 
Most agree that commercial farming is unethical or not good for animals. A majority agree that even small holdings or personal farming of animals is unethical and not good for animals.
Most but not all, extend this to insects. Generally this extends to all by-products such as leather and gelatin. Most, but not all, extend this to non-dietry products such as clothing, body care, cleaning products and other items.
Despite the lack of consensus (and why should there be, these are individuals making their own decisions) the focus is primarily on the rights of animals.

The Religiously Motivated Vegan

There are number of religions which espouse or encourage a vegetarian or vegan diet. There are also a number which have other dietary restrictions. Jainism mandates that its followers are vegetarian and some may extend this to being vegan. Mainstream Hinduism doesn't mandate vegetarianism but it is an integral part of their scripture and is thus common practice, again with some people interpreting it as veganism
Similarly Vegetarianism is encouraged in the texts of Sikhism though it is not a central part of the religion and people freely interpret this, some eating animal products and some turning to a vegan diet. 
In Buddhism there are a number of branches which encourage vegetarian or vegan diets, though it is not uniform across all practitioners.
Whilst other mainstream religions do not have vegetarianism as a central theme, in fact may have common practices and interpretations which encourage the eating of animal products, there are some people who interpret their scripture to advocate a vegan lifestyle or diet and so practice accordingly. 
Often these beliefs and writings are closely linked to the idea of animal ethics and ethics of killing animals or consuming flesh. However as they are deeply linked to a person's religion and beliefs and may be thought of first in terms of faith or spirituality with the ethics taking second place, the individuals may be considered vegan for religious reasons.
You may of course find somebody of a traditionally non-vegetarian/vegan religion who is vegan, but this may not be strictly tied to their religion.

The Ethical/Eco Vegan

This group of people have come to the conclusion that being vegan is a sensible and logical step in living an ecologically sound life. They may be very concerned with methods of food production, food miles, intensive farming practices, local and national economics, global warming and emissions, GMOs and so on. Often their primary concern is eating food and consuming products that meet there ethical concerns as well as possible and have found that a vegan diet is one of the easier ways to do this consistently. Part of their personal ethics may well include animal welfare but it is just one part of their own ethical guidelines. 
You may find that they are very concerned about which brands they consume as some companies or parent companies may not be sufficiently ethical for their comfort zone. Again, this can mean that eating vegan is often a simpler choice for them as it limits the number of decisions they have to make or cuts out an entire area of ethical concern.
These vegans are likely to extend their veganism from their diet in to the rest of their life but it might look inconsistent to the outsider as there are always other ethical concerns guiding their decisions. This means that they may have decided that they won't wear leather or things using animal glues but are ok with wool or silk. 

These are the five main groups of Vegans I can think of and you can see that that leads to a lot of variation as to what a vegan is. Even people within these groups may approach things differently. Further more it is likely that people will fall in to more than one category and may prioritise things differently. You may find that somebody is primarily an Animal Ethics Vegan but that they are also a Healthy Lifestyle Vegan and are pleased that their ethics allows them to have a "healthier" life. 
Or somebody who is vegan for religious reasons may also have strong ethical and ecological drives too which further enhances their religious choice, or even helps strengthen their faith.

Remember though that we need to consider a person's circumstances too. I'm going to use myself as a brief case study here to show how complex it can get when you have different motivations and different circumstances in play.
I went vegan two years ago. Previous to that I was vegetarian and lactose intolerant, and previous to that I was merely lactose intolerant. I started out giving up all dairy, literally all of it because I was very sensitive to it. Then for reasons of Animal Ethics I went vegetarian. At that time I had ME and was fairly poor living on a small fixed income. I also started to develop my ideas about ethical and ecological living. I realised that with my energy and health issues as well as budget it was actually becoming very difficult to be a vegetarian and maintain my code of ethics - being vegan would make it easier.

Personally I am OK with eating eggs but only if it is from a rescue hen who is kept by a person who does not keep chickens for profit, looks after them well in a little chicken heaven in a back garden and is essentially selling the eggs that their now happy chicken lays around their garden which would otherwise go to waste. But explaining that to people every time I go out to dinner or ask in a supermarket when somebody says "do you eat eggs" is unreasonable, especially when you are fatigued. Instead, I just decided I would not eat eggs. It was important for me to have constancy.
Same goes for honey. Are honey bees essential for pollination and general world flora and fauna health? Yes they are and I support that. Is most honey produced from ethically managed conscientious apiaries who look after the long term welfare of bee colonies and the bee population? No it's not. So will I eat honey? No. Yes the honey from the small co-operative in your local town might be great, and the honey from your Aunt Sue's back garden might be lovely. But that doesn't represent all the honey on supermarket shelves or used as a sweetener in confectionery and pre-made items. The likelihood is that that honey comes from poorly managed commercial operations and I simply can't check the source of it all so that means no honey at all to save being a hypocrite or getting horrendously confused. 
Some people may say it's therefore hypocritical of me to eat fruit or drink almond milk and so on because bees are used for pollination, often on a large commercial scale. This is true and is something that has to be thought about. It means I choose my products carefully.

This is were we come back to what the post started with:
There aren't absolutes and there is no need for things to be black and white.
We are limited by our circumstances.

In the world we live in it is virtually impossible to rid yourself of every last thing you find unethical or unjust. From cars to public transport to politics and entertainment. There are things, physical products going in to them that we can't control and that we may not agree with. But this is where we make reasoned choices as to what we think is reasonable, practical and harmonious with our beliefs and situation. 
As a vegan do I think commercial beekeeping is ok? No I don't.
Can I avoid honey and beeswax and will that have an impact on bee colonies? Yes and I need more data.
Am I aware that it is necessary for pollination of many plants I eat? Yes, but I live in the UK a lot of food is imported from the EU which has slightly different practices and laws to the US so the concerns are different (not absent just different) than you may think.
Can I reasonably cut out all products of bee pollination from my diet? No it would be dangerously unhealthy, but where possible I can support brands that support sustainable bee colonies. 

It's a series of choices and a balancing act between ideals and reality.
Accusing or berating a vegan for not adhering to a black and white ideal is to ignore that not only are there a huge number of reasons for somebody to be vegan but that we live in the real world. Being vegan does not overrule other considerations of having to navigate our own unique circumstances within our environment and culture.

Expecting that of people, of any people vegan or not, is ridiculous.