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February 22, 2005



As a starting point, it seems true to say that the clearer you are about your own ideological fundamentals, the further you can go in making tactical coalitions with other groups who do not share them. As an example -- here in the UK, every anti-war movement in recent memory has rested on a coalition of revolutionary socialists and Quakers. Ideologically, the two groups have next to nothing in common. Even their motives for opposing war are quite different (Quakers abhor violence in general, whilst socialists abhor *imperialist* violence). Over the many years of co-operation, no Quaker has ever become a revolutionary, and no revolutionary has ever become a Quaker. That's precisely why they can trust each other.

What I'm suggesting is that in this case and many others, the absence of "common [ideological] ground" isn't a barrier to co-operation, it's the *basis* of it. Both sides are entirely clear-sighted about the nature and limits of the partnership. There's no dreamy talk of "we all want the same thing really" -- the point is, in a specific scenario, we all want *this* thing.

On the other hand, if you're not entirely sure where you yourself are coming from ideologically -- if you just somehow feel sure the war in Iraq is a BAD THING -- then stepping out on a peace march in the company of Islamist fascists may not be such a great idea.


the absence of "common [ideological] ground" isn't a barrier to co-operation, it's the *basis* of it. Both sides are entirely clear-sighted about the nature and limits of the partnership. There's no dreamy talk of "we all want the same thing really" -- the point is, in a specific scenario, we all want *this* thing.

Oh, that's good.

La Lubu

I get the idea, and the reality, of never finding the perfect philosophy, or perfect cause, or perfect group, or perfect people. It/they/we don't exist. I get working with what 'cha got. I get coalition building. Seriously. You're talking to a not-so-sensitive woman who belongs to a male-dominated labor union and still belongs to the Catholic Church! I volunteer at my daughter's school and occasionally for the neighborhood grassroots group. I've volunteered for politicians I thought were far from perfect. I still belong to the local blues club even though they've changed direction and abandoned a lot of the activities that drew me to it in the first place (and there are still factions in the blues club that snap at each other, from what I understand....I dunno, I'm not on the board anymore). So no, I don't expect perfection or agreement from anybody or any group.

But. Certain things are deal-breakers. Disrespect for/disregard of women is always a deal-breaker. I do not work with the so-called religious right, because they are so diametrically opposed to the very things I consider essential to my and my daughter's survival. I don't see any room for compromise with say, that twerp that Amanda exposed on her blog. Not everyone is willing to speak or bargain in good faith.

I take a strong stand against sexism, racism, and homophobia. I am willing to try and educate someone who may be speaking in ignorance. But not everyone is speaking in ignorance. Some really believe that women, people of color, and GLBT people are lesser beings. Some want us to take a back seat. Others will barely tolerate us. Still others don't think we should even exist, period. There is no working with those people.

See, Hugo, you do get to decide who your allies are, as do I. And you do get to decide when you will consider yourself to be my ally. But you don't get to decide when I will agree that you are, indeed, my ally. I dig that we have different views on animal rights. I will always consider the rights of women above the rights of animals. Always.

So what? Well, I don't expect PETA to listen to me, after all, I'm an unrepentant carnivore. I would have expected them to listen to the many voices of vegetarian and vegan women, many of them PETA supporters, who have spoken over the years against PETA's promotion of and acceptance of sexism. That they do not, that they have basically told these women that their concerns are not valid, tells me who and what they (PETA) are.


Hugo, nice post, this is one of my big issues. I've spent far more pursuasive energy than I have trying to make some version of this case to wavering Democratic voters. My point was (and is) that you shouldn't vote for John Kerry (or whoever) becuase you like them or their policies, but rather because that's where the broad coalition is. Voting left-3rd party is divorcing yourself from the people you want government to better serve--a bad start.

But it goes much deeper than this, this is (as Pip suggests) what politics is. If you're just hanging with and talking to people you entirely agree with, you're apolitical.

As La Lubu says, we all have deal-breakers. For me, the deal-breaker that prevents me from having anything to do with PETA has nothing to do with any position they take (and they do take positions I don't like) and any specific tactic or campaign (such as the demonization of fatness and the sexual objectification of bodies, primarily female). It has to do with their general orientation toward their goals and tactics. I have no interest in working with people who don't take seriously the task of selecting tactics in a way that eschews ideological purity for practicality, with the end toward reducing suffering. Confrontational tactics are potentially useful for getting people to 'wake up' to shameful practices they are implicated in. But if the vast majority of people don't recognize those practices as shameful (yet), we need to work on a much more rudimentary step first. PETA's tactics suggest they're completely clueless about their actual impact on everyone elses behavior. To me, that makes them indifferent to the actual suffering of animals for all practical purposes. I've gone on far too long, so I'll shut up, but you got me started on not one but two of my hobby horses.


All the organisations I've worked with have had a philosophy of co-belligerence. Our religious conservatives agree with the Green Party on school choice, TV violence, Sunday trading and casinos. We worked with Parliament's leading feminist to oppose Prostitution, together with liberal Christians and Muslims. We work with libertarians on welfare reform. We don't have to agree with each other on everything. Deal breakers? Well, I don't know, really. I'm sure there are some, but none leap to mind. Partly because our (tremendously flawed) political system requires co-alitions, we get used to working on specific issues with people with whom we disagree. There are plenty of things I would not support, plenty of deal-breakers personally, but no organisation with whom I would not at least talk; perhaps the closest would be the Family Planning Association. While I have no time for Labour, or the Teachers' Union, or the Greens, there are individuals inside the organisations with whom I could work. Depends on the actual circumstances, and the issue, I suspect.


I don't have deal breakers, but push me hard enough and I may have knee breakers.


Actually, for what it's worth, I try to advocate for positive solutions whenever I can. In many circumstances, it's difficult to side with an organization for various reasons. But if an organization's methods or some of its goals make you uncomfortable and there is a better one you can direct your attention to, then problem solved. Just move you resources there. With animals, it's really simple. There are tons of organizations that are a better target of your animal rights dollar than PETA and most of these turn around and contribute the money right back into your local community, killing two birds with one stone. If that metaphor isn't offensively violent, that is.


Question for La Lubu-- How does one reconcile a strong stand against sexism and homophobia with membership in the Catholic church? If disrespect for women is a deal breaker, how can one belong to a church that precludes women from the priesthood?

Hope this question isn't too obnoxious but I really want to know yet have been afraid to ask my Catholic in-laws and Catholic friends in person. So the internet seems like a safe place to ask. Why do my otherwise non-wingnut Catholic friends and relatives tolerate belonging to such a blatantly sexist organization? Is it just out of a sense of cultural and sentimental identification-- for example, my husband's that he was an Irish Catholic and doesn't really have much choice about it, "it is just who I am."


I read an interesting column about relationships this week, where a counselor said that in 99% of the problems brought to him, the person is making excuses for their partner's bad behavior. And the first order of business is to stop the excuses, because you can't honestly and thoughtfully look at a relationship--or be in one--otherwise.

I think if you get to the point where you're making excuses for your allies' behavior or loathsome views, it's time to walk away. "I disagree with them on point X" is very different than "Yes, point X is in opposition to many of my most deeply-held principles, BUT..."


To me, it's a matter of cost-benefit analysis. Does the organization I'm supporting do more good than harm? My (unposted) criticism of your previous post, which I think a number of other commenters share, is not that you're not pure enough. Of course we all have to compromise in order to join anything but the me fan club. My concern, though, is that you're focusing too much on the animal-rights benefits achieved by PETA and not considering that they're outweighed by the sexist, weight-ist, and anti-Semitic costs of PETA. Now, you may weigh the two sides against each other differently -- certainly my support for animal rights is much softer than yours (I'm not even fully vegetarian), so a unit of sexism goes farther in souring the deal for me -- but it's the tradeoffs, not the lack of purity, which lead me to disagree with your stance on PETA.

My own more controversial alliance choice is my support for the Boy Scouts -- I'll save my explanation for my own blog, so as not to fill up your comments, but I am curious about your view of the Scouts as someone who places such a high importance on working with boys.

La Lubu

cmc: to be candid, that is a toughie for me. It really is. I struggle with it. But like I alluded to before, ultimately I would feel as if I was just copping out and running away if I didn't try to stay and be an agent for change first.

Ethnic and cultural considerations are a biggie, too. Like it or not, that is also a part of who we are. People who are able to cut those ties are rare. Frankly, I don't want to cut ties to my ethnic/cultural heritage; I view that heritage as a source of strength and respite from the Struggle. I don't really think I can put into words just how strong that bond is. I have visited other Christian denominations, but their services felt far too foreign to me. I seriously don't feel I could be a Protestant without being someone other than myself. I also feel that it would be a rejection of my ancestors....the spiritual version of dyeing my hair blond and getting blue contact lenses. If that sounds silly to you, well, I guess I just can't explain. We're not really talking about 'reason' here, but emotion. And when it comes to religion, emotion trumps reason (as any atheist will gladly tell you!).

I still see a lot of good in Catholicism, even as I see a gross level of sexism within the Vatican. But, like I've said before on somebody else's blog, "there's Catholicism the way men in pointy hats in the Vatican practice it, and there's Catholicism the way Sicilian grandmothers have practiced it even before there were men in pointy hats in the Vatican." I learned my faith from my mother and grandmothers. And like I said, it's an anti-clerical tradition. So that helps.

And there are so many good people still within the Church. When I think "Catholic", the first images that come to mind are the people, especially the women, who practice their faith. Not the hierarchy. I think of the women who stand outside the Federal building downtown in all kinds of weather protesting the war. I think of the Sisters who run Jubilee Farm. I think of the people who cook and serve food at St. John's Breadline, and the people who gather and deliver food at the Holy Family Food Pantry. The people who volunteer for the St. Martin de Porres Society. Pax Christi. The Catholic Workers. Liberation theologists. Those are the ones I see first.

There are people working for change within the Catholic Church. I would like to be a part of that. There are many who are not satisfied with the status quo.


Wow, thanks for the great response La Lubu. It is a more articulate version of my Irish Catholic husband's explanation. He always tells me that my concerns with the exclusion of women from the priesthood should not stop me from converting because the best solution is to work for change rather than abandoning the institution of Catholicism itself. He also speaks of the values he learned from the priests who taught him as he was growing up. Since Catholicism is not my heritage, I have not taken him up on his urging me to convert.

But your comments remind me that my Catholic friends and in-laws are not necessarily as sanguine about some of these issues as I have assumed. Thanks a lot!

La Lubu

you are most welcome! ;-)


My partner is a Catholic and despite their anti-women, anti-gay "structural" rules, she too is reluctant to leave. She identifies with Catholicism not in the misguided rules of today's men in Rome, but in the broader concept of faith and community. (She's a progressive, social-justice type of Catholic, of a sort that many people forget is a bastion of the Church.)

I guess you have to take the longer view that the Church is the people, not the heirarchy. Esp. helps when the pope announces as today that Gay Marriage is part of an"ideology of Evil". (I can think of a lot of evil in this world, and us being married doesn't even begin to get there).

I don't think she will ever, in her heart, stop thinking of herself as Catholic or being confident in the important tenets of her faith, even if her parish changed and became unwelcoming.

After all, how many Catholics use birth control? Get Divorced? what really matters in a faith tradition?

Ron O.

First let me say I have a lot of respect for your position LaLubu though I do not share it. I'm an ex-catholic who never had an emotional attachment to the church. Mass was always something I had to do, never wanted to do. For me leaving was easy. I went to Catholic schools for 13 years. I greatly admire some Catholics & Catholic institutions and will support them financially, like Little Brothers of the Poor. Becoming a member again for me is a deal breaker because of how the church is run and the LONG list of policies I find objectionable. I feel like a hypocrite sitting in a pew listening to a priest who had to have a penis to get the job.

I did suck up the hypocrisy a few weeks ago and went with my Dad to church (Mom doesn't go much anymore) and I was amazed to hear him substitute "Creator" for "Father" in every prayer. He's got a loud voice too. People are going to notice. Good for Dad!

La Lubu

Ron O: hee hee. I like your father already!

Scott Neigh

Interesting post. I value a non-puritanical approach to politics, and I think our movements are strengthened by some or all of us not being what they -- the general public, elites, the media -- expect us to be.

My concern is that the way the issue is framed seems to be grounded in privilege in a way that isn't brought out and examined. What political spaces we go into and who we do or don't work with is cast, in this post, as a matter purely of principle. That's obviously part of it, but I think that leaves some important things out, specifically an explicit integration of power and privilege analysis. It's not just an issue of will or won't with respect to being present in different political spaces, but of can and can't, and what that latter two terms mean for the first two.

For example, it doesn't matter if I have some consciousness around trying to be an ally to women and people of colour and queer people, I still don't experience racism or (hetero)sexism. That means that there will be social spaces and political spaces and employment spaces which I can exist in with relative comfort which will drive away many people who experience those oppressions and who may be politicized in resisting them. It is easy to dismiss these absences as "choice" or "a matter of principle", but that is unfair: it can be a matter of basic emotional and mental health to avoid such spaces. Staying silent in the face of an oppression that you experience bears a psychological cost; speaking up usually generates resistance or even material consequences, and dealing with that also bears a cost. That means that there are lots of spaces out there that I can be in with much less difficulty than some friends, loved ones, and allies.

And I'm obviously not talking about the Klan, here, or something ridiculous and horrible like that; I'm not even necessarily talking about spaces as divergent as Hugo lists; rather, I mean even many progressive social movement-related spaces exclude in these ways, as do many non-political spaces. I mean groups that, themselves, might be organized to oppose some aspect of racism or sexism or poverty or war, as well as those which have no explicit progressive orientation whatsoever. In other words, the groups and organizations and spaces we are in are structured not just by choice but also by power, privilege, and oppression.

So I think there are additional questions that those of us with any privilege based in class, race, gender, sexuality, or ability need to ask ourselves:

  • What does it mean if it is only one's privilege that makes one capable of existing in the divergent spaces in which one exists in order to feel whole?

  • What are our obligations to people who experience oppression and to whom we are trying to be allies when we decide to be in spaces or work with groups that are, functionally if not explicitly, impediments or even hostile to their liberation?

  • When do we forgo our own wish to be in a particular space, organization, or action based on the experiences and voiced wishes of those whose struggles we try to support?

  • When we are in such spaces, how do we let the ways in which we function there be guided by the experiences and voiced wishes of those to whom we are attempting to be allies?


Scott, interesting points, a lot of which I think can be addressed by a more nuanced version of "Be willing to shut the hell up and listen to other people,a nd make it clear that you are so willing."

Your first question lost me.


"After all, how many Catholics use birth control? Get Divorced? what really matters in a faith tradition?"

Ah, birth control. The most misunderstood of the church's tenets. The Catholic Church is neither against married couples enjoying sex nor suggesting that woman's only role is to have babies. The Catholic Church equally values the procreative and recreative elements of sex, and therefore oppose artificial means of controlling the latter. They do support Natural Family Planning, which is effective and can be used to delay OR to deliberately conceive a child.

If people still disagree with their position, that's fine, but at least KNOW what the position is before saying you disagree with it.

By the way, there are people other than Catholics who choose to eschew contraceptives. I have a book called OPEN EMBRACE written by a Protestant couple. After getting married, they decided that they didn't want to practice contraception. They sought a book for Protestants with this attitude, but all they got were confused looks: "Don't you get it? You're ALLOWED. You're Protestant." There's a lesson in there somewhere: that just because something is now allowed doesn't mean everyone will partake.

By the way, the CC isn't against divorce, either. Just unannulled divorces.

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