What young people want…

Well, broadly, they want a future. They want to feel positive about their lives, that they will be able to achieve their dreams and do what they want and live good lives. Maybe they want to better their parents’ lives. Who knows. But every person wants to fulfill their dreams, right? And most of us have realistic ones.

They also want…

– Affordable education
– Jobs with liveable wages
– Housing – rentable, perhaps, that’s affordable on their wages…
– Respect
– To be listened to
– Intergenerational fairness. Why should my grandmother have access something I don’t have? We should be working towards good standards of life for everyone, not racing to the bottom.
– To feel safe and secure. No one wants to live in fear of being burgled or mugged, or racially or sexually abused. And no one ‘deserves’ it either, by virtue of simply being poor.
– To feel like they can do and be what they want (that their aspirations are achievable and not some far-off fantasy)
– To feel their contributions are valid and valuable
– To have the right and ability to congregate and meet likeminded people
– Entertainment, particularly in ‘deprived areas’ where they may not want to sit at home and play on an xbox because family relations are strained. They need youth centres and things to do that will keep them entertained and out of trouble…. dance classes, or I don’t know… sewing lessons. There’s a dearth of classes and the like for young people who are past scouts and guides but not into full work.

There are more, but a nice start I think. The funny thing is that this age group is routinely ignored and treated badly in society but actually they are the ones who have enough energy to really do great things. We should be helping them develop their skills and harness their energy in a positive way rather than allowing their creativity to rot into destructiveness… I honestly think this is a key reason the riots happened last year, and I’m not convinced we’ve seen the end. The real shame is that in a way, rioting is great for a right wing government wanting more control. Most people will happily give up their rights for a quiet life – in order to feel ‘safe’ from what will be/has been branded ‘domestic terrorism’… Riots are an amazing excuse to vilify young people, convince everybody else they are worthless, and instill greater authoritarian rule. Never mind the fact that we could easily avoid it in the first place if we actually considered young people, the impact policy has on them, and their utter powerlessness in the face of such policies.

When 38 degrees lost their way

I’m not really sure what the last straw was for me, but I’ve been ignoring 38 degrees for a while now, having at first been a rabid supporter of everything they were doing. They have done some brilliant campaigns in the past, but more and more I started to noticed that what they were concerned about, wasn’t what I was concerned about. In fact, a quick glance at their website shows where their campaigning interests lie:

– The Big Switch (people being ripped off by utilities companies)
– Tax Dodging
– The NHS

I am concerned about the welfare reforms. I am worried about disabled people and the impact that will have on their lives. I’m worried because I am unemployed, on JSA (and have been tactfully told if I don’t find anything soon I will be more or less forced to work somewhere anyway), I identify as disabled (though not affected as not on disability benefits), and I’m acutely aware that at any moment I could become disabled.

We are currently going through what seems to be to be an extraordinary period where things will change in a massive way. It occurred to me that: a) there is no mandate for this change; b) this will affect millions of people in the UK, some now, some later; c) there’ll be no political will in the future to change it back. So we need to fight this now, and we need to be fighting hard, exposing lies and fraud where we can and telling the truth about what the health bill and what the welfare reform bill will actually do to people’s lives.

What is disappointing is that 38 degrees, once so on-the-ball, has now created those campaigns that no longer represent my views or interests. What’s more, they no longer represent the views of a lot of people I know. Yes, people being ripped off by utilities companies is bad but not as bad as disabled people being forced to work for free on a permanent/long-term basis, in return for benefits they should be entitled to regardless. Tax dodging is bad, but there are already other organisations dealing with this, and making more headway than 38 degrees – I am, of course, thinking of UK Uncut and associated regional activist groups. And as for the NHS, yes this again is another thing that needs to be done but it’s also being done in a much better way, by a whole host of other charities and organisations. The NHS story is a huge topic of interest at the moment, so people are already aware of what’s going on.

The other thing that is interesting to note is how much of their campaigning is puff. They want money, and they want signatures. Money to run ads or do something-or-other, and signatures and letters to give to MPs. I hope I am not the only one who can see that this sort of activism has well and truly had its day, and that clicktivism is dying out. If it isn’t, it should be. I’m no expert but I can’t remember any time I had a truly satisfactory response from my local MP or indeed anyone I have written to, asking for them to reconsider their views.

It is kind of sad, really, that an organisation is taking on already-popular and already well-known issues. I would have expected them to take the welfare reform bill to pieces and really go for that, because it is a really big change and will have huge repercussions. Is it possible that they are simply taking the easy way out?

With membership numbers presumably dropping (quick mention on twitter created ire from friends, and a lot of them felt the same as me. I can feel a palpable sense of exhaustion at clicktivism and writing letters to MPs) I don’t expect they will enjoy the popularity they experienced in 2011 this year, somehow.

Fighting oppression via the medium of… Uh, cupcakes

A while ago, I read a piece somewhere online about young feminists not knowing what the Fawcett Society was, and how terrible it was (well, sort of). I hope I can be forgiven this this feminist faux pas – and perhaps even prove that maybe the FS is not the be-all and end-all, nor the definitive line of British feminism.

We have all heard the stats about women basically being ignored by consecutive governments; how cuts and redundancies will hit women hardest and nobody cares or bats an eyelid or does anything about it. Women are being trod on left, right and centre. We can all agree that this is not restricted to Conservatism – Labour were just as bad. But it’s all okay. Because the Fawcett Society are taking a stand! There’s a protest soon. A protest that requires you ‘dress up’ in a 50s theme. Can’t make it? It’s alright – you can host your own tea party!

I could cry.

I get that it’s trying to be ironic. “The government are taking us back to the 50s, we need to show them we won’t take this anymore” etc. But irony doesn’t wash with feminists when it’s being used on terrible, sexist t shirts. It doesn’t wash when men make sexist jokes. Why should it wash with other women that we are allowing ourselves to be portrayed in this way?

Obviously, I am all for the protesting. I am all for sisterhood and displays of it. Playing dress-up and baking cakes for your nearest and dearest is, I’m sad to say, absolutely not civil disobedience, and doesn’t say to anyone: “I’m really angry and I’ve had enough”. What it says to me is: “I have the money to go out and buy an outfit so I can play dress-up for the day, and I have the luxury of time to be able to bake cakes and have a tea party”.

The thing is, it appeals to a particular breed of feminist. It appeals to the ones that don’t particularly want to get their hands grubby, the ones who are most probably not going to be affected by these changes that the government are putting through. I am not saying that people cannot represent others who can’t go. But I find that the very nature of this form of protest really smacks of privilege, and is kind of offensive to those women who are not geographically able to physically protest, who don’t have the money to spend on a new ironic 50s outfit, and who don’t have the time/skills/money to host a tea party.

Those women who are too busy working several jobs and trying to run a house who are actually being affected – does this protest speak to them? Does it speak to me? No. I want a protest with fire in its belly. I want brilliant slogans, fantastic creative banners. We women are just as good at being resourceful, creative, and bloody angry – just the same as our male counterparts. How can you reduce such a group to such a small and conformist idea?

Underneath it all, it says: Well, this is what we’re good at, ladies. We are good at being hostesses, and we’re good at shopping and we’re good at baking – we may as well face up to it and use our inherent biological assets and skills as a tool for protest.

No, no, NO. It’s not subversion, it’s submission.

I am glad that they are doing something (incidentally this is the first thing I’ve seen) but in short, it’s a really, really terrible concept and I honestly think I am damn well vindicated for largely ignoring the Fawcett Society up until now.

The Cult of Assange, and Occupy Everywhere

Today’s the day of mass occupation. All over the world people have decided to occupy squares and spaces, in an act of mass civil disobedience. In London, people chose the London Stock Exchange – though this is rather misplaced as the LSX is not actually a) public property and b) where the trading goes on – and that failed, so they’re now outside St Paul’s. It seems this was inspired by Egypt’s Tahrir Square, and then Occupy Wall Street.

Criticism of the appropriateness of this one-revolution-fits-all approach (which I have offered and discussed among friends) aside, I’m concerned about the Cult of Assange, and what that really means in terms of holding people to account. Assange turned up at Occupy London, to a media furore, and loads of cheering (and booing – but from what I could see Assange was freely given a platform from which to speak). I watched a video in which one woman screamed “WE LOVE YOU JULIAN!”

I put my head in my hands.

No, he has not been convicted of anything – though this blog does throw that somewhat into doubt, as does this. No, I am not saying he is a rapist. No, I am not saying I don’t like WikiLeaks or that I disagree with the general principle of transparency (though it would seem Assange himself is not a big fan of things being too transparent).

I just think that we need to stop the whole Messiah parade for a second and actually ground ourselves in reality. Julian is but one person in an entire organisation that purports to represent true freedom of information. I don’t know if he raped anyone, and I don’t think it’s my place to publicly say so even if I think he did.

But y’know, there is a terrifying theatricality and atmosphere of hysteria around Assange – and others who we deem to be ‘in the movement’ or ‘on our side’ – that we are in danger of ignoring or glossing over what would normally be considered contemptuous and amoral (at the least!) behaviour. It’s like the hysteria that broke out when Johann Hari was found to have fabricated quotes. “Not Hari!” the left screamed, “He couldn’t POSSIBLY do this, because he’s on OUR side” – Look what happened. We let one slip through the net, we let them all.

I think it’s important that we suspect, scrutinise, and examine all that we think may be doing wrong, regardless of their job or their position in society. Regardless of whether we want to protect them because we think they are doing good for ‘the cause’.

I can’t help but feel disappointed that Assange turned up to Occupy London, and I’m sure others do too. Now, he will make the headlines while the true stories behind the ‘Occupy’ movement get lost. To me, the picture on this blog really does say a thousand words – and it is the total opposite of what we need at the moment.

Analysis of the March for the Alternative

It’s been just over a week since 200-500 thousand people marched across London. What kind of response have we had, and why? Are these even accurate or viable views to be held in light of what happened?

Media response to the march

From what I’ve seen the general response to it was ‘the march was ok – but look at these broken windows and be horrified’. I personally spoke to Julia Hartley-Brewer, a presenter from LBC 97.3 on Monday, when she was asking about what anarchism means, etc. I’m probably the worst person to ask this kind of thing – I’m not an anarchist and although I know people who are, I don’t really believe myself to be in such a position as to explain their motives to somebody. For the record, I don’t think I can speak for a whole range of people. So I clarified I wasn’t an anarchist; that I merely ended up with the black bloc by accident at the protest – which is true – and then gave my explanation to all of these issues and arguments which is: Ultimately, we are all individuals and are responsible for our own actions – it shouldn’t worry us what Joe Bloggs next door is doing. Whether we choose to do things in groups or not – you can’t legimately say that because they were in the same place at the same time that they automatically must believe in the same things. And in fact this is one of the problems with the black bloc – anyone can turn up dressed in black. Perhaps on Saturday there were people who turned up who weren’t anarchists at all. We don’t know, and it’s something that can’t be controlled.

Another question was – and in hindsight, it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever – “You were there – why didn’t you try and stop them? Why didn’t you shout at them to stop throwing things?” – I’m not even sure I answered it because I was totally stunned. I’m 22; a young woman with no weapons, no scarf to protect my identity, and no authority. Firstly, why would I want to tell them to stop? I don’t care what other people do at the protests because as far as I’ve seen it has very little impact on me – and until I see the black bloc actually hitting peaceful protesters then I will continue to think so. The impression people get is that at protests people just start fights and that’s absolutely not the case – the only reason people get hurt is if there is a fight between individuals, or when the police get involved and inflame the situation. Secondly, why should I tell them to stop? I’m not the only person witnessing this. There are dozens of photographers, reporters and other members of the public milling around, who are far bigger, older, and stronger than I am. It is telling that not a single person shouted at them to stop or attempted to intervene, out of a watchful crowd of a hundred. The police didn’t even turn up until it was too late, moving in to protect HSBC when protesters had already started moving on.

I wasn’t really allowed to finish what I was saying, and I kind of understand why. Firstly, they ran out of time and needed to go to the adverts. And secondly, I don’t think anyone listening to LBC actually wants to know about what really went on, from the view of someone who was ‘involved’ (in quotes, as I wasn’t actually involved in any vandalism that day, but happened to be in the area). Their audience doesn’t much care for the ins and outs of anarchism either – not that I was the right person to explain it. Julia was asking for anarchists to ring in and explain what they wanted – but similarly, what anarchist would listen to LBC?! I wouldn’t have thought many true anarchists do. Moreover, who would be willing to bother wasting their time trying to explain themselves – the listeners have already made their minds up; the presenters have made their minds up, and a cut-off explanation of things isn’t going to change anyone’s mind. So I feel a little disappointed (in terms of feeling that I wasn’t really given that much of a chance) but I completely understand why and frankly I don’t blame them. The listeners need someone to shout at on the radio; someone who challenges their long-held beliefs and makes them grumble about ‘the bloody state of this country’ or whatever. And that person was me last Monday. I get it – I understand how the media panders to their audience and treats people who disagree with the same contempt that their audience would, if at all. I don’t hold any grudges either.

The main frustration with the media narrative of good protester/bad protester is that it is so prevalent, and the left can’t even begin to counteract that when pretty much all of the mainstream media is right-wing or right-leaning. How can we get our message out there that the black bloc isn’t mindlessly destructive? That police were the ones hitting protesters with little or no reason, and not holding back? Even a brilliant eyewitness piece in the Independent was derided as fiction by readers.

Police tactics and attitude

Like I said in my write-up of 26th March, there was pretty much one occasion where I thought the way the police (attempted to) handle the situation was laudable. That was outside Fortnum and Mason. The officers there didn’t push back, didn’t hit anyone and only spoke loudly to tell people to move back. Of course, they were too weak to hold it against the crowd that was pushing back – but the point is they didn’t do anything unnecessary. At other times during the day – and the worst example I can think of this is at Trafalgar Square – police acted in an antagonistic way towards protesters, pushing them back and kettling them when there was nothing going on. This kind of treatment is highly inflammatory – is it any wonder that those who were having a nice evening with their friends, stood by a fire, or dancing to music took exception to being moved out of the area in such an aggressive way?

Basically, the police need to stick to one tactic and run with it the entire day. My suggestion would be more hands-off like they were at Fortnum and Mason, ie watch the situation as it unfolds and go in if and when necessary. If they do need to go in and people are getting upset, explain to them exactly why they are being contained. Don’t use words like ‘sterile area’ because that’s nonsense and we all know it. The problem with protests is that everybody gets caught up in the moment – the kid who threw the fire extinguisher, I would propose, would never in a million years just pick up a fire extinguisher and throw it off a roof for kicks. Not saying he was encouraged to, but that people in crowds do immensely irrational things. And the same is true of the police – if only the Met would stop kidding themselves that every single police officer acts in a professional way. It’s understandable. We’re all human. We all get carried away. But in the same way the police, and the public at large, want protesters to condemn each other’s tactics (which I refuse to do), the police should actually condemn some of their colleagues for acting the way they did. Does this seem like a reasonable response to you? Of course protesters get carried away but the differences are: a) protesters are (usually!) not paid to be at protests; they go because they believe in a cause, rightly or wrongly; b) police have a duty to be professional at all times when working with the public – and ‘hitting people with batons’ doesn’t fit into my definition of professionalism; c) police are supposed to neutralise situations, not inflame them by intimidating people.

Regarding condemning of those involved in vandalism, I don’t think infighting is the answer, and I don’t think violence is the answer either. But I do honestly think that if the cuts are going to be affecting people as badly as it is believed they are, then broken windows will not be enough to put them off protesting. When people are pushed too much; when they have nothing left to lose, they will start protesting.

In the aftermath of the TUC march we need to be open and honest with each other – not judgemental; not condeming… For what’s done is done. What we need to do is move on from this and learn some lessons. We could probably start with understanding of what solidarity is, and adopt St Paul principles, or some form of. We can start with the third: “Any debates or criticisms will stay internal to the movement, avoiding any public or media denunciations of fellow activists and events.”

As the great saying goes: “I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”

My experience of 26th March

Colourful placards on the TUC march

Some of the colourful placards on the TUC march

I said I’d write about it on Sunday, and every day since, but I’ve been really too busy to. Busy with a social life and busy with trying to catch up with all of the news coverage of the protest and events that happened on Saturday. I still am not satisfied with what I’ve seen, because I still can’t really see exactly how it was portrayed – but I gather it was all in a negative context (we all know that bad news is better than good news!)

My day started very pleasantly, with breakfast near Russell Square with a small group of friends from Twitter. Our plan was to meet people in the education bloc, the parent bloc, then go to UK Uncut, then Trafalgar Square. We joined the march at about 11am, and were all in good spirits, talking about what the day might be like, what we might achieve… As we got to Embankment, the crowd slowed down and ground to a halt. We had lost half of our group, and were standing in the middle of a crowd of people with scarves covering their faces – mainstream media will have these labelled as ‘anarchists’ but this assumption makes me uneasy. FIT officers were on railings filming the crowd. We chatted with various people around us – most of whom were covered up – and we heard someone say that they’d seen one of the FIT officers before and didn’t like him. Conversation turned to frustration at not being able to move, and consensus was reached that stalling marches like this will only make people angry. The crowd eventually started moving off, albeit very slowly, and we were eager to get ahead. Standing around in the street somehow feels futile. So we made our way through the crowd along Embankment.

At Trafalgar Square we headed off towards Soho Square, to meet fellow UK Uncutters to go to a ‘comedy gig’ at 2pm. We found a fair few people in Soho Square, including UK Uncut supporters and comedians Chris Coltrane and Mark Thomas. We were told to go to a certain place, and groups headed off. As we followed people in front and crowds merged, it soon became clear we’d lost UK Uncut and were now with the black bloc. We decided that we should just stay with them – nobody felt unsafe or threatened – until we could figure out what else to do. As we were walking along a couple of people decided to move some huge green wheelie bins, and some of the crowd responded “Fuck the bins!” “The bins are to blame for this mess!” etc. I don’t think anyone really thought it was appropriate or necessary to move the bins.

Smoke canister outside vandalised HSBC

Smoke canister outside vandalised HSBC - note the number of photographers

Outside the Palace Theatre, we saw a HSBC suddenly get spray painted and hit with paint balls (I was splashed with a small amount of paint too), and then people started to hit the windows with whatever they could. As far as I can remember, there were a handful of police around, dozens of photographers and a small amount of people actually doing the damage. After about ten minutes of this, when the black bloc had decided to move on, riot police moved in. This caused interest, and people went back to see what was going on. One man in riot gear not only pushed back people, but ran after one person (over a small distance) to hit him with a baton. This is on video, just about.

Eventually after a few clashes with the police when a couple of riot vans turned up (they were spray-painted and hit with sticks, predictably) – people decided to move on. I don’t quite remember what happened next, but we headed to Oxford Circus to try and take part in the UK Uncut ‘secret location’ sit-in. We waited at Oxford Circus for ‘the signal’ and as there were hundreds of people there who weren’t involved in UK Uncut this was pretty difficult. We got word, somehow, that it was at Fortnum & Mason. So we made our way there. On arrival, police were attempting to block the doors to prevent anyone from getting in (it must be said that this was the one point I could say the police were not being too aggressive – it was clear they were being told to be restrained in their approach), but the crowd kept pushing and pushing, and me and another friend were pretty much pushed in. There were about a dozen police officers inside, and a couple of hundred (maybe? Not good at estimating numbers) protesters. Many were sitting down eating their sandwiches that they’d brought with them. Some of them had put up banners and written ‘Pay your tax’ on price labels. Someone had brought a beachball with them that was thrown across the huge round balcony section, until it fell to the basement floor level – and nobody went to get it. We were in there for 30-45 minutes at a guess, and after we found some other friends, we decided to head out. It had turned particularly nasty outside and police lines were there waiting for protesters to come out – we were shoved out of the way by them even though we were going in the opposite direction.

We left F&M and went up the road to try and find other friends; we ended up on a side street just off the main road which was clearly causing a headache for the police. I don’t know how long we were there but it must have been a while and there were small skirmishes with police as they stood their ground, then formed a line (for very little reason that we could see? But we were on the wrong side anyway – looking in) and then started beating people back. Part of the problem started when police started gathering barricades on the side of the street. I was stood very near them, and what I can only figure (though I don’t know if it was or not) as a petrol bomb came flying past me, almost hit me, landed on the pavement right in front of the police and set one of their boots on fire before spreading up the pavement a little. Luckily no one was hurt, although it seemed extremely close to me particularly (hard to tell because crowd was sparse but from what I remember I was the closest) and it was the one part of the day where I would say I was genuinely scared I might get hurt. But only momentarily. What followed was an attempt by the police at blocking the road off, hitting back anyone who wanted to move through the line to get to their friends. When the line of police turned round as if to begin kettling us, we left as soon as we could.

After a quick dinner, as we hadn’t eaten all day, we headed down to Trafalgar Square and found a noisy, but peaceful, crowd of a couple of hundred people. Some were huddled around fires for warmth, some were dancing, some were chanting, but not one of them was causing any issues that I could see. We stayed for a while but as it got colder went to the pub, and came back later. When we returned, we saw police starting to move in at the steps near the national gallery (ie down into the square) and police forming lines at the bottom. In other words, beginning to set in to squeeze the protesters into a kettle. The protesters at the bottom, facing those police on the stairs, panicked and picked up barriers and threw them at the police. Things were getting nasty, I’m sure, but I couldn’t really see much other than barricades going over peoples’ heads. We moved to the top of the square, near the stairs, and as we realised police were shutting the stair exits off, we shouted at frantic protesters – some may have even been passersby, encouraged by the earlier noise – to climb up the walls where we were. Soon, half a dozen of us were helping people scale the walls to escape being kettled. Some that were inside specifically didn’t want to leave, and just shrugged. The situation turned really nasty and we could tell that fights were going to break out, as they had done earlier, so we left.

That’s my honest and full (perhaps too wordy?) account of what happened on Saturday. I spoke to Julia Hartley-Brewer, a presenter on LBC 97.3 on Monday – and I’ll explain about that in another post, analysing the response to what happened (as in, what people have been arguing with ME about, what the general media narrative was and what I think about it, and policing tactics etc).

Congratulations if you made it this far, and thanks for reading. I know it’s been a long one. There are loads of other, probably better, blogs out there. But I wanted to record my experience.


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