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Saturday, 23 March 2013

The Lucy Meadows bandwagon


Like numerous other, similar instances in the UK, the death of transgender teacher Lucy Meadows appears to have been hijacked by people with an agenda other than the welfare of the people concerned.

In particular, the scandal's focus has been shifted onto the Daily Mail and their £1million RWNJ (right wing nut job) columnist Richard Littlejohn.

In his column, Littlejohn said a lot of vile and ignorant things but he did not actually call for Meadows to be sacked. And now, as the New Statesman columnist and legal bod David Allen Green has pointed out, we can see from what evidence there is that media harassment of Meadows and the school, including of parents, is sourced to elsewhere in the press and that Meadows never referred to Littlejohn's column.

But the focus has been onto the Mail firing Littlejohn as some sort of trophy head-on-a-spike that'll teach 'em about how to treat transgender people. But this isn't how those actually engaged at the coal face in trying to change the media's approach see the way forward.

Instead, writes Trans Media Watch, who presented a very detailed report to the Leveson Inquiry (which Allen Green helped draft):
As a charity we prefer to build positive relationships and bring about change through education, providing training and resources for media.

Littlejohn is a pantomime hate figure, he is pretty much employed to do that job! But he doesn't represent the sort of doorstepping and agenda driven reporting which is cited in what evidence exists as to what Meadows' possible state of mind was prior to her apparent suicide. That comes back to the local newspaper, which is owned by Trinity Mirror not Associated Newspapers, the Daily Mail's owner. Trinity Mirror must be breathing a sign of relief that no shit seems to have stuck to them

Before this evidence came out perhaps it was natural for people who want-to-do-something to start a petition and, lo, so it came, via an interesting choice.

The petition to fire Littlejohn was on change.org, a US based company which is expanding around the world, the UK being an early expansion target. Change.org is an enormous operation and it is for profit. It is assumed to be progressive but that was exposed last year when it agreed to promote campaigns against the Chicago teacher's strike.

There is a lot of competition when it comes to 'clicktivism' (typically meaning the signing of online petitions). The resultant lists of email addresses have great value and can be used to generate revenue from 'partners'. Most companies in this game say they have some sort of ethical basis for who they will work with - change.org now insist they never claimed they had. But the game is the same, generate clicks/signatures to build up your 'clicktivism' outfit.

So it is telling that over Lucy Meadows a Brit chose to go first to change.org rather than a British competitor.

It is also telling that another group has decided to set up in competition with change.org over Lucy Meadows and Littlejohn. These are the people, note their UK Advisory Board members - especially people from the TUC and Oxfam. This is how it describes itself:
SumOfUs.org is a global movement of consumers, investors, and workers all around the world, standing together to hold corporations accountable for their actions and forge a new, sustainable and just path for our global economy.
SumOfUs.org seems to be a split from other US, probably just Silicon Alley New York, based groups. The publicity I received for their 'Fire Littlejohn!' petition came from someone who had done PR before for the LGBT 'clictivism', New York-based group AllOut.org.

Their publicity was headlined:
Thousands Outraged After Daily Mail Reporters’ Bullying Leads to Teacher’s Suicide
'Leads to ..'? Littlejohn a 'reporter'?

I have worked with AllOut and one of the things I liked about them was that they were very careful to work with groups on the ground, for example in Uganda and Brazil. I am very much reminded of that careful work, particularly in Uganda, when I note that this SumOfUs.org petition plainly has no connection with Trans Media Watch. It's just bandwagon jumping and very ethically dodgy, no matter how you slice it, because this would build a mostly UK list and that has value and that gets funds for the group.

How it actually helps transgender people in the UK and not just SumOfUs.org is not clear, unless those involved think their 'global movement' can decide what actions will help without any apparent consultation?

WTF are the TUC and Oxfam thinking?

Pike's angry parent find
Added: The journalist who first 'monstered' Meadows is Stuart Pike of the Accrington Observer.

He was the one who went out of his way to find controversy and an angry parent, which was the picture (seen right) accompanying his story.

Pike's story is then what was repeated by the Daily Mail, which was then covered by Littlejohn. Yet Pike's possible breach of journalistic ethics has had no consequences, for either him or his Trinity Mirror owned Newspaper. He hasn't even been targeted on Twitter.

Irony of ironies, Pike appears to have a relationship with Alastair Campbell, who is singled out as a shit-stirrer in the Mail's response to the call to sack Littlejohn.


» » Follow up on reaction to this post is here.

19 comments:

  1. Agreed.
    I'd love to hear why Sumofus.org started a petition knowing there was one already.
    From the good of their hearts?

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    1. I tweeted at the TUC and Oxfam people I mentioned. Any response will be added of course.

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  2. Sumofus and change.org have sent me lots of petitions that I both agreed and disagreed with, naively I never stopped to question their motives. Thank you for the information.

    The thing is, I would never have heard of Lucy Meadows if it wasn't for an email from Change.org, and I would say a lot of other people who are genuinely horrified by this are the same.

    Are they doing harm? I don't have an opinion on this as I don't know much about them, I don't feel that "for profit" is necessarily bad, twitter is for profit and it is a tool people use to raise public awareness on a lot of issues. Could you explain in more detail the objection?

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    1. Because change.org already had a petition why did SumOfUs.org feel another one was needed? Did they ask any trans groups before they acted?

      And I disagree that the change petition is the best way to draw attention to the issues, or do anything about them -- here I point at what Trans Media Watch are saying.

      And as I also point out if you want to target those responsible for any monstering then why only Littlejohn? Why not the guy who did it in the first place? It's obvious that this is because of specific agendas against the Daily Mail, which have nothing to do with monstering of trans people.

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    2. I agree that not enough emphasis has been made on the local and other press behaviour over this, and I tried with my little twitter account to raise that yesterday. I even posted on the Accrington Observer's comments, but oddly there was a cull of any posts that criticised their involvement and it (and other) posts doing the same disappeared after a few hours.

      There is a huge 'anti-DM' movement and it's a shame they have pinned themselves to the coat tails of this. I guess Littlejohn makes a good pantomime villain and it has raised awareness, but there is a risk that the core point about the on-the-ground behaviour of the press is getting lost in the calls for his sacking.

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  3. I'm not sure that petitions reducing a complex situation brought about by a number of circumstances that need addressing (e.g. society's attitudes towards the trans community, the mistaken believe that children find it harder to deal with diversity than adults, poor regulation of certain newspapers, 'protect the children' fundamentalism) are ever the way forward. We don't deal with one witch hunt by starting another.

    Having said that, I do find both Richard Littlejohn and Stuart Pike personally offensive and the Daily Mail article made me fume. It was an online petition that drew my attention to the situation and it's made me question what I might be able to do to be more supportive of genderqueer people, which is certainly no bad thing.

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  4. Sometimes, Paul, this sort of careful, clinical analysis falls very short of what is needed or indeed of any way of getting under the skin of events such as to make sense.

    Reading your piece, the view of the world i get is, somehow, of a bunch of responsible activists over in Trans Media Watch responsibly beavering away - and then of things being appropriated/hijacked by two nasty commercial organisations outside the envelope.

    Here's an alternative perspective. TMW do masses of very good work for which they are highly regarded and respected within the trans community. However, they work best by standing a little to one side of the rest of the trans community, because they need to be able to talk to power and the establishment without the latter feeling that every least nuance of dialogue will be instantly pushed back out to all and sundry.

    They are not, therefore, an organisation that wishes (as far as i know, since i am not part of them) or is designed for leadership of mass protest. They are a finely tuned engagement machine.

    Elsewhere, the trans community is a seething mass of different communities and groups and campaigns, often at loggerheads (just think left politics...or even LGB politics) and rarely singing from the same hymn sheet or facing the same way.

    That said, there is serious antipathy to appropriation and while this blog of yours may be well intended, its framing (analytical, intellectual) and its dialogue about hijacking and national organisations, as well as the fact that it continues dialogue about us, with other persons from outside the trans community who have, nonetheless been heavily involved in work on our behalf, is a tad disquieting.

    Hell: i need to explain that, because it sounds a little more antipathetic than i intended.

    In a strange way, by being so analytical, it echoes the Mail's disgusting claim that the twitterstorm that followed Lucy's death was "orchestrated".

    And now that i've read what you wrote and taken a peek at the sumofus site, i am a little more concerned about that than i was a couple of hours back.

    But still, what am i trying to say? Something i said to a commissioning editor on Friday: that Lucy was one of our own - even though, of course, she would have been known directly by only a handful of those trans folk now protesting on her behalf.

    Still, her death has gone through the community like a bolt of electricity. There is real grief out here. Real anger - and some of the things being dissected and analysed already just don't bear this sort of dissection.

    We are haphazard. We are upset. We are not following some great master plan.

    Which is why, no matter how well intentioned your analysis, or that of David Green, i'd ask that you pause for a moment to consider things like privilege and appropriation.

    This is our cause. Our anger. And there will come a time for steadier heads, even from outside the trans community, to step up and ask the awkward questions. But this weekend feels just a bit too early for that.

    This weekend - and on Monday outside the Daily Mail offices - we will happily welcome allies of every shape and kind. But for now, today, this is first and foremost our grief.

    janexx

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    1. Thanks for your response Jane - I saw some of your stuff btw at your blog, http://faeinterrupted.wordpress.com

      As I hinted at, this reminds me somewhat of the relationship Western progressives have had with Ugandan pro-gay activists, and your comment reminds of what happened around the death of David Kato. In every sense, such as there being no one voice representing all of a 'community', of a time for grief, of 'privilege'.

      However what I would say is that this stuff is going on, right now and who I am talking to/at/about is really other 'progressives', specifically SumOfUs.org and very particularly the Oxfam/TUC relationship. Receiving their PR drove this post as I saw it as very clear bandwagon jumping. I am very much reminded of some of the behaviour of Avaaz over Uganda.

      You appear to be asking for consultation and consideration - that is what I am also calling for.

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  5. hmmmm....i'll buy that.

    i'm really not trying to take you on, though i know it looks a little like that.

    Perhaps i am suggesting that the view from inside the trans bubble looking out is not quite the same as the view from outside looking in and your post (and a couple of your responses) do read a little as though coming from privilege.

    (though since that single word instantly accesses a raft of feminist discourse, i hope i haven't just derailed my own post by introducing it!).

    Also, while i can allegedly craft the odd analytical piece as required, it is possible/probable that i am a lot more emotion-driven nowadays.

    Let's not fall out. Looking at your side bar, there are a couple of issues there that i would very much like to follow through on as well and i can see us working side by side in the future on a variety of LGBT campaigns.

    Just read my post as, mostly, just saying... tread softly. For this weekend at least.

    janexx

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  6. Hey Jane, old thick skin here so don't worry about me :] I appreciate any input and especially honest input. Emotion is fine, I have my own 'bubble' remember. I have plenty of people in dialogue with I disagree with on stuff. Vitriol I'm not fond of, mind ...

    Yeah, would be very interested to response to other posts. Some of them are just touching on something but I can see some interesting possibilities on my post on language, or gays vs black women? Maybe something else?

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  7. Hi Paul, thanks for this post, Jane's attitude is somewhat more acerbic on the Facebook group of Trans Media Watch, where she is proclaiming that you are disturbing, patronising, and putting down the whole trans community as silly trannies who cannot behave like adults. In my opinion, Jane's rush around the media outlets has it all wrong. This coming weekend is not for her and her fellow activists, but for grieving family, neighbours, friends, colleagues, and students of Lucy Meadows. Your concern might be about petition sites, but there are those of us in the trans community who are very concerned about the indecent haste of Jane and her allies, especially over a very ill-advised vigil, which I understand has not been discussed with the family, and is as you say because of wider battles with the Daily Mail rather than concerns for a grieving community in Accrington.

    Mercia (blogging on these issues as Trans Scribe)

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  8. The reason I'm afraid that people are using these petitions is that they feel that they must do something about this
    And there is nothing else that they can do to make there feelings known 800 people complained to the pcc and look what that did. So why not try this, I think your right little John while an idiot is not the only one here. But how do you go after the whole press machine you can not do it. It has to be one thing at a time. I have never know such sadness or anger in the trans community and an emotional reaction is to be expected. Hopefully after that as settled something good can come of all this

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    1. Almost, Mercia. Almost. I commented on a board run by Trans Media Watch, which is an open forum, and while the focus was this post, there were others in mind, too. I don't think i intended to describe Paul as anything, since i don't know him: though certain aspects of blogging, commentary, etc. i may at this moment consider in danger of falling into all three of the categories you report above.

      I do plan to drop him a line asap, since i was aware of his writing before (through Pink News), was aware of him producing stories around LGBT issues that were a tad more substantial than some of the re-writing that goes on in some places, and suspect that in the next few years there will be times when, for better, for worse, we may need to get on.

      The comments sections of a blog or a media forum do tend to get a bit gladiatorial, and are an easy place to make enemies and lose friends, which is not the intention here.

      I'm going to continue this response in a separate post, because i have quite separate, but hopefully worthwhile points to make.

      janexx

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  9. Mr Littlejohn "did not actually call for Meadows to be sacked" - What does the mean? Did he call for Ms Meadows to be sacked or not, but not actualy ... or does that mean anything actually? The truth is that he "did actually" say that she was in the "wrong job" which does actually say that she shouldn't be teaching, which is pretty much the same thing. I would append my name, which is Lesley Stafford, but I have to choose anonymous from the list below because I don't have any of the requisite accounts.

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  10. "What does [that] mean" - what it says. "pretty much the same thing" is not "the same thing".

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  11. If the attitudes and actions of "the press" are ever to change society needs to voice its disgust at their actions and demonstrate how far public attitudes have progressed. It's easier to do this if there's a totem to direct that expression at. As the person and organisation involved in this with the widest reach do Littlejohn and DM not make appropriate such totems?

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  12. A really honest article ... like many others that have commented i didn't question the motives of the someofus and quite honestly when i became aware of the story my first gut reaction wasn't 'they must sack littlejohn' it was two things, first: genuine distaste towards the ease in which the headline targeted a vulnerable group in society and second: the frustration that a teacher is targeted for being different and that somehow the kids will not be able to handle sir being miss, but also will somehow be damaged by it ... i am a primary school teacher myself and from what i have seen/dealt with children are up there with the most adaptable, understandable, accomodating people there are .. they seem to lose it as they grow up.

    My point in all this is that i kind of agree with you that we have to be mindful of what we are campaigning against ... but i am also grateful that it was brought to my attention through the sumofus campaign ... even if i dont fully agree with the focus of their campaign.

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  13. Why is NO ONE mentioning the Lancashire Telegraph ran the Lucy Meadows story BEFORE the Accrington Observer?
    Why vilify the paper that got the story second and not the one that broke it?

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  14. Until there are better accountability mechanisms in place, we need to be pragmatic about opportunities to move against the careers of pantomime hate figures who have long since proven they don't deserve their platforms. Yours is an interesting & useful piece, but I'm not at all impressed by the way it styles itself as an expose; sites like change.org, SumOfUs (and indeed 38 Degrees!) have ambiguities & complexities which need teasing out, whereas you're perilously close to mudslinging.

    xx

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