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Monthly Archives: September 2013

Reinstate Owen Holland!

I’m happy to say that Owen Holland is now back at Cambridge finishing his PhD.

Dear Professor Borysiewicz –

As an alumna of the University of Cambridge, I am ashamed.

As a postgraduate student, I feel betrayed.

As a champion of democracy and free speech, I am embarassed that you have muddied the names of causes I hold dear.

As a poet I am angry, sad and spitting gall, embittered by the crass disregard an institution I was once so proud of has shown for gentleness and compassion, for fellow-feeling with future students, for careful thought, well-chosen language and the courage of a young person in using our tools – our words – to stand in defence of all a university is or ought to be.

I cannot comprehend how educators could stand with government vultures who hover to pick cash-purses from the bones of what should be a seat of learning, and against one student – one scapegoat from among the many – who stood to protect the free flow of information and ideas against hegemony and indoctrination from an aggressive government.

What can I do? How can I protest at this? I am not rich enough to hit you where you just might feel it. All I can do is hold my association with the university at arm’s length, and denounce you wherever I go.

I am ashamed I ever went to Cambridge. I call on you, and any of your peers who still believe in education, in ideas or in your much-vaunted right to free speech to repeal the two-years suspension of a student for nothing more than speaking his mind and proceeding in peace against a very real and dangerous aggressor.

I am ashamed. I am angry. I call for the immediate reinstatement of Owen Holland, and an end to this gross and malicious hypocrisy.

Most Sincerely,
Alice B. Reckless

 

 

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Don’t Shoot!

Remember when they threatened to shoot at us for walking through London? ///OLD MATERIAL///

By the time of publishing, “tomorrow” should read “today”.

Tomorrow morning I will get up for the first time in my life knowing that, at some point during the day, somebody might shoot at me.

I know that I am lucky to be in this position at the age of twenty-four. Luckier still that the rounds I may face will be plastic; luckier once again that it is pretty much certainly just a scare tactic that the Metropolitan Police are employing to try to keep the people from the streets.

Tomorrow is the November 9th student walkout and demonstration against fees and cuts.It’s the first big anti-cuts demonstration since the 23rd of March last year, when trade unionists marched on Hyde Park to hear Ed Miliband say something slightly disappointing, and UK Uncut activists, many of whom are also involved in the labour movement, descended on Picadilly and occupied Fortnum and Mason. Police behaviour on that day was atrocious in itself: designated legal observers were arrested in the course of their duties and are still awaiting trial, there were kicks and thumps and cuts and bruises to very nearly anybody who came face-to-face with a police officer at Picadilly, some worse incidents of police violence using shields and batons and bizarre attempts by police to disable demonstrators – one activist using black bloc strategies on the demonstration had their shoes removed by Her Majesty’s Finest, and had to hobble home in their socks.

Prior to that, the last time I had been on the streets among my fellow students was on December 9th, the day of the Parliament Square kettle. Nobody I knew got out of that without bruises from police boots and batons at the very least, one of our party had her collarbone broken by a police officer and I was myself nearly crushed under Harris fencing as cavalry were ridden at us hard.

So I was already nervous about hitting the streets tomorrow. Because before bullets were threatened, I was expecting violence on the part of the police. I was expecting to have my activities criminalised: on the 9th, we were unable to leave Parliament Square long before the “violence” against the treasury started. (And please, in future can we limit the definition of “violence” to act that harm sentient animals?) I was already trapped when the site was declared a crime-scene. I should like to be clear that I do not condemn any of the actions taken by members of this movement so fa; I stand in support of all those young people serving custodial sentences for their participation in these events, and in particular my friend Charlie Gilmour. However. Even if I had wanted to b e a long, long way from the “criminal” activity taking place at the treasury – in fact the other side of the square from where I spent my day – I couldn’t have got out. I had no choice.

Of course, this is how the kettling technique works: it causes temperatures within the containment area to rise to boiling point, so people, angry, frightened, tired, hungry, frustrated, start to do things that they can be arrested for. Of course a lot of them are also kicked and batoned before they take any form of retaliation, too, but that is considerably harder to prove.

Members of this movement who have been around since last year have already been traumatised and frightened. Thanksgiving dinner last year was for us a night of sitting quiet and huddled, exchanging battle stories. And now the government are letting the police have access to bullets. Make no mistake but that this is an attempt by the law-makers to frighten students, many of whom are still children by law. The threats had me considering staying away – and I’ve been marching against every government we’ve had since they started killing people for oil, or being Muslim, or whatever excuse to cover those two reasons they were making at the time. I’ve occupied three universities (two of which I even attended), I’ve camped for climate action, I’ve sat in, I’ve sat down and I’ve sat on the roof of a school as part of struggles against top-down injustice, and I was still almost scared away.

Among my friends, I am one of the less experienced, less cop-savvy and less risk-happy. If I didn’t know that I had better informed people, whom I could trust and who have seen situations I can barely imagine, right there with me to inform me and willing to support me, I would have been frightened away.

How dare they. These are the people who brutalised my friends for walking through the streets. Those who gave the orders, or condoned the giving of the orders, are to my mind as culpable as the people who struck our bodies with their weapons. And they don’t want me to march.

So of course I will.

I am going to march – and I intend to do it entirely safely. My solidarity to anyone taking any form of action against fees and cuts tomorrow; I will be following social media very closely, smartphone in hand, and if there is a whisper of a kettle I’ll be beating a hasty retreat. But when the numbers of people in the street are counted, the number of people who came out in defiance of the threat of artillery, who saw that kind of violence as entirely consistent with the violent cuts that are crippling the poor in this country and keeping ordinary people out of higher education, sounding the knell agains social mobility, I will be in that number. And if I am arrested or kettled, it will be entirely the fault of the police. Tomorrow, I am just going to walk through London.

This threat of gunfire is as unsurprising as it is unjust. I am willing to wager that there will be no shots tomorrow; the gathering of students at MALET STREET at  TWELVE NOON will doubtless constitute a giant game of Call My Bluff.

But this is the first time anyone has ever threatened to shoot at me and my friends.

And I’ll be damned if I’ll let it happen again.

See you on the streets!

STOP ABORTION COUNSELLING REFORM!

August 29, 2011

This is the letter that I am sending to my MP, Caroline Lucas, about Nadine Dorries’ and Frank Field’s disgusting proposals for abortion counselling reform. Please feel free to use the text as a model letter to your own MP if you wish to do so.

It is with anger and genuine fear that I read today of the Department of Health decision to push independent bodies, often with pro-life agendas, into the abortion counselling process. It is already remiss that there is not a complete state-funded counselling service for those considering terminating their pregnancies. Organisations like Marie Stopes and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service should be recognised as doing stellar work in providing objective and non-judgemental counselling for women undergoing what is often one of the most traumatic experiences of their lives.

The decision, falling just short of legislative procedure for the time being, comes from Conservative back-bencher Nadine Dorries and Labour MP for Birkenhead Frank Field, and it is ideological. It may be aimed at reducing the rate of abortions in the UK and I have little doubt that this astronomically high statistic, with 200,000 terminations taking place in the UK annually, needs addressing; but the introduction of private companies with their own political agendas into the decision making process risks damaging women’s physical and mental health, and quite possibly their entire lives, in the process.

In taking the decision to terminate a pregnancy women are already determining to give away the pound of flesh closest to their hearts.  It must be their decision to do so; this decision must be made with access to strongly regulated, impartial advice and consultation from healthcare professionals. In an ideal world abortion counselling should be brought under state control as part of the NHS, available free to everyone who needs it.

Under the present government this will not happen, but Andrew Lansley and the Department of Health are pushing us towards a world in which private companies have a say in our reproductive freedoms and that is a dystopia in which I had never imagined living.

I know that my voice is not alone in our constituency in opposing this new and radical reform to our abortion rights and I hope that you will recognise our voices and speak out and publicly campaign against these changes over coming weeks.

Stop Abortion Counselling Reform!

Another one from the archives:

This is the letter that I am sending to my MP, Caroline Lucas, about Nadine Dorries’ and Frank Field’s disgusting proposals for abortion counselling reform. Please feel free to use the text as a model letter to your own MP if you wish to do so.

It is with anger and genuine fear that I read today of the Department of Health decision to push independent bodies, often with pro-life agendas, into the abortion counselling process. It is already remiss that there is not a complete state-funded counselling service for those considering terminating their pregnancies. Organisations like Marie Stopes and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service should be recognised as doing stellar work in providing objective and non-judgemental counselling for women undergoing what is often one of the most traumatic experiences of their lives.

The decision, falling just short of legislative procedure for the time being, comes from Conservative back-bencher Nadine Dorries and Labour MP for Birkenhead Frank Field, and it is ideological. It may be aimed at reducing the rate of abortions in the UK and I have little doubt that this astronomically high statistic, with 200,000 terminations taking place in the UK annually, needs addressing; but the introduction of private companies with their own political agendas into the decision making process risks damaging women’s physical and mental health, and quite possibly their entire lives, in the process.

In taking the decision to terminate a pregnancy women are already determining to give away the pound of flesh closest to their hearts.  It must be their decision to do so; this decision must be made with access to strongly regulated, impartial advice and consultation from healthcare professionals. In an ideal world abortion counselling should be brought under state control as part of the NHS, available free to everyone who needs it.

Under the present government this will not happen, but Andrew Lansley and the Department of Health are pushing us towards a world in which private companies have a say in our reproductive freedoms and that is a dystopia in which I had never imagined living.

I know that my voice is not alone in our constituency in opposing this new and radical reform to our abortion rights and I hope that you will recognise our voices and speak out and publicly campaign against these changes over coming weeks.

Archives #1: “Politics” and the 2011 Riots.

So, the next few posts are From The Archives, originally published elsewhere, bear with me…

I’m re-posting this from a note I wrote on Facebook, so that I can engage with more people about what we’ve seen on the streets this week.

To be clear, I don’t think I’ve got any special insight into the rioting; I don’t live in one of the affected areas, I’m very lucky in that respect. I also feel, whole-heartedly, for those who have been affected. This situation is not good and we need to think about how we are going to move on.

A lot of the analysis that I’ve seen from other Regular Folk like me has troubled me, and I think it’s incredibly important that we have this debate as much as possible and in as calm and thoughtful a manner as possible. I’ve seen liberals advocating treatment of the rioters that is nothing short of labour camps, and I feel a very profound need to make sure that people are thinking about reactionary statements like that so that we can avoid such throwaway lines taking hold of the dominant discourse about one of the most troubling times in the recent history of this country.

There have been deaths in this situation. It needs to end and we need to stop it from happening again. May Mark Duggan, Haroon Jahan, Shazad Ali and Abdul Musavir rest in peace. My heart is with their friends and families.

*   *   *

The first thing I want to say is that I’m a bit baffled by the continuing “condemn or condone” discourse that’s going on. We’re not, as individuals, a mainstream political party – even if we belong to one (I don’t). It therefore doesn’t matter whether we condemn or condone what is going on; we are not the law-makers or enforcers. Perhaps sadly. Saying “I was really upset to see someone’s home being burnt down”, and “I was really upset to see a police officer brutalising a sixteen-year-old girl” are not contradictory statements; they are both statements that I hold to be true and they cut against the reductive dichotmising of the situation into “for” and “against” categories. I feel the need to admit that really bad things have happened in London and around the country this week. I don’t feel the need to say that everything that has happened on the streets is bad or that everything that has been done by the state, against the streets, is good. Let’s talk about what’s actually going on, and not in glib maxims about support or opposition that absolve us of looking closely at the situation.

The other thing that’s muddling me up a bit is people saying that the rioting is not “political”. Left-wing friends seem to be using this to mean that it hasn’t taken the form of organised demonstrations (or uprisings etc.) with specifically chosen, class-conscious targets; we’re not seeing Whitehall ripped up, for instance, or Molotovs in the City. Right-wing, or at least liberal and more rightwing, friends seem by and large to be saying that it’s not political because they don’t believe it to be in any way related to government actions or socio-economic circumstances. Even Harriet Harman on Newsnight had a hard time explicating the view – which I was glad she implied and irritated that she dropped – that those hit hardest by the cuts and the economic climate are the ones who are rioting for that very reason – that they have been hit hardest by the cuts and the economic climate.

For my part, I don’t think there can be any doubt about the “political” nature of the rioting. Look at how it began, with Mark Duggan’s shooting last Thursday. A young black man from a poor area was killed by the police, who it seems then tried to disguise the conditions of his death – ballistic reports and IPCC investigations show that the bullet in a police radio that Duggan is supposed to have fired is police issue. Members of his community, I presume friends and family members among them, then banded together and marched on the police station. Too right they did. Surely this meets everyone’s criteria for a political action – for the left, it is organised and focussed; for the right, it is a direct response to a state action.

The rioting began there, in Tottenham, after that action against the police. It began in the highly political anger of those who have been instulted by the state, one time too many. Rioting is an expression of disenfranchisement; I don’t understand how smashing up your own back yard can be seen as anything other than an expression of helplessness, or hopelessness. Surely the statement is, quite clearly, “I don’t care anymore”? I have never held much truck with those who think that apathy is in some way apolitical; to be apathetic is, usually, to open the doors to being reactionary and really quite right wing – in such circumstances as “being apathetic” means going unquestioningly with the status quo. Middle class kids who don’t vote put “apathetic” under their political views on Facebook. This in reality means “willing to let what’s happening keep on happening and to make excuses for it half-heartedly from time to time, so I don’t have to trouble myself with action” – see why I think that’s reactionary and right-wing? On the streets though we’re seeing a different and infinitely more important form of apathy. People who just don’t care about their home communities, about their neighbours, at all. Homes and grocery stores being torched are to me a far greater signifier of political apathy than the big places, like Sainsbury’s or EMI, going up. It shouldn’t be that you can live every day just round the corner from somebody and then set light to their home without thinking twice about it. The sentiment “but for the grace of god, there go I” seems to have taken on an ironic sneer, so that in this angry moment, the only available form of status elavation available is, “well it’s their house burning, not mine”. I have found this particular sentiment very difficult to phrase but I think that destroying one’s own home area is indicative of a kind of mass dip in self-esteem – “we don’t matter, who cares if we mess this place up?”

For people to feel that they have no economic or social value, that they might as well be on fire as anything else and at least they might get a new telly out of it, that’s political. Cutting people’s jobs, benefits and services isn’t automatically the cause of a riot – that’s an argument I’ve seen the right-of-me contingent throwing around quite a lot too. “When their benefits were cut, they weren’t replaced with a crow-bar and brain-washing with a ‘smash, destroy’ message.” Sure; people have individually taken the decision to run out, smash a window, take a DVD player, drop a match. They have done this as autonomous individuals, not under the control of anybody else. It would be extremely disrespectful of me to suggest otherwise than that these actions have been taken by individuals with brains and the capacity for independent thought. They are people however who have been driven to the point of despair.

Things have happened in my own life, as they have happened in nearly everybody’s, that have made me extremely, extremely angry and extremely, extremely sad. Made me question what the point is of anything at all (amittedly I’ve read enough Beckett and Sartre not to look for a “point” in quite that way). But I don’t burn things down or run through the streets smashing shop windows and taking what I can. Partly because of the nature of a riot; in a psychogeographical scenario not disimilar to that of the creation of designated Temporary Autonomous Zones, new rules apply when large numbers of people act together. Anger feeds off anger, adrenaline builds and bricking places and mugging people becomes acceptable within the new rules of that space. That’s part of how it works and why it catches – but it has to begin with anger and sadness more extreme than mine, or at least with less space for expression and development and less faith that actually, someone will listen and respond. I think it’s really telling that when a journalist asked one of the rioters whether they thought it would work they said, “This how we get change here. After ’85 [Broadwater Farm uprising] we got a brand new swimming pool. It wasn’t coming here before.” (I got the quotation from a Workers’ Power article, I’m not a member of Workers’ Power, this article isn’t anything to do with them, advocating them or condemning them etc.).

So maybe no good comes of rioting. Maybe it is wrong to smash and burn things, rob people (whether it’s wrong to steal from corporations is a different matter), the rest of it. Maybe it isn’t inevitable, and maybe it does destroy communities. None of that means that it isn’t political. We do not stop riots like this from happening by locking up everyone involved for as long as possible. I’ve even seen people advocate “sending them to Afghanistan to look for mines” – doesn’t that mean slavery, and slavery of a kind as physically dangerous as it is ideologically? In essence, a singularly aggressive form of labour camp? Punishment won’t fix it – it’s too deep-rooted a problem for that. It is social structures and political systems that need to be reviewed to stop this happening again – surely the fact that there were riots under the last austerity government speaks to that? Each individual circumstance isn’t the cause of the riots; people aren’t automatons; nobody made them do it. But I’m pretty sure that we are collectively responsible for making them feel that it didn’t matter if they did do it, and that besides, they had to do something right now and nothing else was making a blind bit of difference.

I think more things about other aspects of the riots, but these are responses to things I’ve seen come up most frequently on Facebook/ Twitter/ Blogosphere.

My unconditional love and solidarity to all of those affected by the rioting and especially to the families of the deceased.