On Saturday 21 February, together with my daughters Alice and Stella and my partner, Rob, I walked in the Women’s March.
There I met other lawyers and UC lecturers – Annick Maselot and Natalie Baird from Law, Carolyn Mason from Philosophy and Kathryn Dalziel a lawyer from Taylor Shaw, both of whom teach in Law also. Euan Mason was there, and Katie Pickles who spoke beautifully with her daughter; my fellows from Zonta, the organisation of professional women who support women and girls; other members of my family. I cannot name them all, there were so many.
Following the March, Al Nisbet published a cartoon in the Press that appeared to suggest that it was pointless because Donald Trump was elected and women should just accept it.
So I responded with this letter to the Press:
It is unclear what Nisbet’s cartoon (23 January) was about exactly, unless it was a simple comment on the ironies of democracy and freedom of expression. But I did indeed march because of democracy – I worry that we are witnessing a failure of democracy. That is because ‘, and we now have in power in America a man who does not or does not want to understand what human rights are about. Free speech, the first right, without which the other rights wither, is already being undermined by Trump’s contemptuous offering of ‘alternative facts’ for his supporters to feed on. And Trump has made statements which show he doesn’t give a damn about the rights of people who don’t look like him – white and male. So do your job, media, continue to call this man and his ilk, and maybe democracy will function properly next time. Meantime, people must continue to march and speak.
The letter attracted a number of responses, one of which was an anonymous phone message from a man who said he was shocked and that I was a leftie who would feel right at home in the Kremlin. Another law graduate also emailed and suggested along similar lines to the Nisbet cartoon that the US electoral system had spoken and that was that. This is how I responded to her:
I think it is simplistic to suggest that because a political system in a country labelled a democracy has delivered a leader to power following the basic electoral rules it has set for itself, then democracy is functioning properly. As we know, there are number of countries in the world which have held so called democratic elections that have delivered despots or returned despots to power and allow despots to remain in power (usually with the help of the military). And might it be that some democratic electoral systems no longer promote democracy or promote it effectively? The reasons why the electoral college system was created in the US no longer exist, for example. Is it not legitimate to question these things, rather than just accept election outcome after outcome? We should do the same in NZ also.
In fact, my overall point was that I fear democracy is under threat in the US (and generally) and I want the media (and women protesting as we did on the March on Saturday, worldwide) to hold people like Trump, (proven liars, proven promise-breakers, proven misogynists) to account. And as a media lawyer, I want truth to be honoured. I don’t want ‘post-truth’, I don’t want the ‘alternative facts’. It is great that we have ever more platforms from which to exercise free speech. But again, it is simplistic to suggest more platforms deliver more free speech than ever. Media scholarship strongly suggests now that new media platforms appear to promote speaking limited to tribes in tribal language, not speaking to everyone. I am inclined to believe that John Stuart Mills’ marketplace of ideas is becoming dysfunctional in that the truth is not emerging from the limited debate promoted by new media platforms, nor is it even being valued. That strikes at the very heart of democracy and it will impact on human rights.
But I hope this will lead to a new political movement, and it could be led by women wearing those pink hats. They are called Pussyhats, and the idea seems to be that you knit them yourself. See: https://www.pussyhatproject.com/knit/