Sunday, 28 August 2011

"Rule Britannia"

Today I went to a festival in my city, where I was greeted by a small choir singing “Rule Britannia”. The chorus is catchy, I'll admit it. However, all I kept hearing was “Rule Britannia, Britannia rules the waves. Britons never ever ever shall be sane”. I am not joking, that is exactly what I could make out. I had to ask my boyfriend, who promptly filled me in on what the lyrics actually said. “Britons never ever ever shall be slaves”.

It’s interesting to note that the choir was singing this song here in Wales.
Wales; a country whose history, for what I have gathered, consists of the pillaging and plundering by England.

It is even more interesting to note that yesterday, for the first time, I found myself saying out loud that I believe the British have been colonised by the American Empire, much like the rest of the World, only with far less opposition by its citizens.

And I stand by my words. Britain is a proud country, used to rule the world after being an Empire for centuries. It seems easier for British citizens to carry on believing that they (more or less) still rule the world. They seem content with the fact that everyone else speaks English, just like them.

They don’t question, for instance, why is it that there’s a McGonnagal’s, a Burger Minging and a PlanetsBucks in every British High Street. Every effing British High Street. Would the British react differently if the forsaken fast food establishment were called, say, “Don Alonso’s”?
I saw an ad on the telly some time ago for this “New British Drama!”. Except that it seems to take place in America, everyone has an American accent, the look and feel of the images is indistinguishable from an American Drama and, wait for it, there’s an American flag waving at the end of the ad.
I could go on all day.

Let me say this loud and clear:

Britain is not America. And the ruling empire is the American Empire, not the British Empire.

Britain is not pulling the strings, America is. See Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya.

As a foreigner, I notice how every culture in the world is being superseded by the Great American Culture.

I have felt for the culture of every country I’ve lived in, its personality, charm and unique qualities trodden upon by a big, unstoppable Monster nobody is supposed to acknowledge or question.
I feel for British culture as well.

But of course, British culture is not the only victim of the American Empire.

There's also the British Welfare State. A source of national pride and a strong example of “doing it right” which American activists themselves have relied on to prove to their governments that “there is a better way to do things”. That British Welfare State is being decimated by policies and laws that have a distinct Neoliberal appearance.

Put it bluntly, the welfare state is being killed by the American economic system that rules the world.

Put it more bluntly still, in a few more years, the British economy will be indistinguishable from the American one.

This is simply a continuation of the American Empire exercising its influence over Britain. And it’s only a taste of what the rest of the world has been dealing with since the beginning of the American Empire.

Yet you don’t hear right wing groups like the EDL crying about defending “British Values” while opposing American ones.


I was just listening to this very song on ITube. The video consisted of a long series of paintings showcasing the might of the British Empire. The last one? “Side by side Britannia”, an image of Uncle Sam and Britannia herself, their arms locked, smiling at each other.

Perhaps the artist forgot to add a speech bubble: Uncle Sam whispering to Britannia "Do as I say or else". 

Friday, 26 August 2011


Savages. “Feral savages”. Those words have been used to characterise the rioters. Not just the rioters, but all the people who belong to the “class” that rioters are presumed to come from. And because there isn’t a social class called “rioters”, pundits have rushed in to fill the description by making unfounded assumptions: they are black and brown, they have single mothers, they are on benefits, they live in council housing, they don’t have fathers.

And every time someone has referred to the rioters as “savages”, this very song would pop up in my head.

Melanie Phillips is the picture of a friendly, progressive, liberal lady who goes to yoga classes and makes vegetarian soups. It came as a shock to learn that she’s a rightwing Daily Male pundit.

I don’t usually engage with the insanity that pesters in the Daily Male, so I’ll just use her words to make a wider point. In a recent piece of hers, Phillips wrote:
“(…) the most important thing that socialises children and turns them from feral savages into civilised citizens”
That most important thing turns out to be a “father”, in case you were wondering.

I want to go back to this song because it provides a neat context on which to judge this accusation of rioters as “feral savages”.

For those who haven’t heard of it, the song is from the movie “Pocahontas”, which tells the story of British Settlers arriving to the “New World” with the intention to pillage and plunder in good old British fashion.

The word “savages” is, as you may have guessed, used by the settlers to refer to the natives. The settlers were “civilised”, and the natives were not. This state of affairs was essential for the settlers to justify the carnage they inflicted upon several peoples in order to steal their land.

Some of the descendents of those peoples, referred today as Native Americans, are still around and there is no shortage of activists ready to condemn the carnage and the destruction that the settlers brought to their ancestors.

But that’s the thing, you see: they condemn the Americans for their actions. And Britain is left off the hook. To my knowledge, Native American activists have not laid the blame for the actions of the White Man at the feet of the “Mother Country”.

It was British settlers who first arrived to America. And the idea of natives as “savages”, and of Europeans as “civilised” grew, partly, on British soil. It clearly hasn’t been extirpated yet.

I find it fascinating that these ideas share the same root with the accusations of rioters as “feral savages” in need of “civilising”. The words are the same for a reason.
And the template for dealing with the rioters is the same as the template for colonization: there are “feral savages” in need of “civilising” by the White Man or Great Father.
I also wonder if Melanie Phillips would have been able to get away with using these words in a country like Australia.

It didn’t work in the case of Native Americans, and it won’t work with the rioters. That much is obvious. The mindset that considers “brown people” or “children” (notice how in the case of the rioters those two categories are blurry) as “feral savages” is not the mindset that will “civilise” them. If by “civilising” one means educating them, clothing them, feeding them; all the noble goals that colonizers adopted and which, as you might expect, amounted to nothing. Instead, the "savages" were exterminated or turned into "second class citizens" of a nation they didn't not choose.

The problem is Patriarchy. The problem is Civilisation. And we must end both.

Note: Yes, I do know that "Pocahontas" is problematic in a bazillion ways, but I'm making a very basic point here, which still stands.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

News: I "Published" Something!

I’ve just joined the website “Women’s Views on News”. I am a “co-editor”. My mum was well impressed by that title!

It’s has had a great reception, where “great” means a couple of people on twitter liked it, and all feedback has been positive. I’m really happy about it, I won’t lie.

Now, here’s what I’ve realised from “publishing” my first piece: it hasn’t changed the world.

In my previous post, I mentioned how attending UK FeministaSummer School taught me that it’s not enough to understand something for it to change. It sounds silly because it is. I always knew this on a conscious level, of course I did. But something clicked during that session on reproductive rights: my understanding of an issue does not make the issue go away.

A similar thing happened yesterday: I wrote about something, but the world didn’t change. The problems I addressed (and they weren’t many) are all still there. Somehow my subconscious seemed to convince itself that “once I publish my ideas, the world will change and everything will be much better”. Again, a silly thing to believe, but that’s the delusion my subconscious seemed to be under.

Never fear, though, for my subconscious seems to have come up with a solution: I shall keep writing. Surely after I’ve written lots and lots, the world will change.

I am pointing all this out because I am worried about the mismatch between “knowledge” and “change” that is prevalent in our society. We seem to “know” what is wrong, but we have no idea how to change it.

I don’t have an answer to this dilemma and believe me that in itself has caused me enough suffering. What could be more painful than knowing that your writing is essentially useless? Furthermore, I don’t even know myself how to go on about changing the world. So what good could my writing do if I can’t say to people “this is how we change things”?

What I’ve done is to settle for “explaining” things rather than “informing” people about them. I have always been eager to distance myself from the word “journalist”. I am a writer; I don’t just inform people of what is going on. I want to explain to them the whys and the hows. For instance, we all know that the economy is “effed”, but people don’t seem to know why that is the case, or how we can change it.

I’m beginning to realise that I like explaining politics to people, so who knows? Perhaps that’s what I’ll devote my life to.

And if you have come across a way to deal with this dilemma of “knowing what is wrong but being unable to change it”, then please let me know about it. I’ve been searching for an answer for a really long time.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

My Review of UK Feminista Summer School

I said that I would try to write something a bit more positive about UK Feminista Summer School. So here it is.

I want to start with the best outcome of the School for me. And that was the opportunity to meet a very special feminist from my home country. Her name is Inti, and she’s committed to the daunting task of bringing some badly needed feminism to a deeply sexist and misogynist culture. I admire her bravery; I didn’t stay to fight sexism, I just left the country.

A small part of me started to heal from my talk with Inti. It’s a part I never acknowledge, full of pain, shame and confusion. For once in my life someone understood what I felt when I was a teenager. I could never make people understand it, and nobody was keen to do so anyway. But for a split second, in between our conversation, a single shred of understanding shone through, imperceptible to anyone but me. And it was enough. For now, it will be enough.

And had it not been for UK Feminista, this encounter would not have taken place. I am immensely grateful to the organizers, just for this opportunity. So thank you, UK Feminista organizers, for creating a space where feminists can come together and meet each other.  

Now I got this off my chest, on to the actual school.

"How to run an effective campaign"

From Eve Sadler, I learned about campaigning. I find it very difficult to be “practical” and get things done; I am a natural thinker, not a doer. So Sadler’s focus on strategy and her “what to do when” approach, helped me actually picture “how to get stuff done rather than read and dream”. It’s a strange feeling, to suddenly imagine yourself actually “achieving change”, even if it is small, rather than passively waiting for a Revolution. To top it all, Sadler gave us all a nice handout with detailed instructions on how to run an effective campaign.

What could have worked better? Perhaps focusing the campaigns a bit more on “feminist” goals. And a passing comment about the “Revolution” would have been nice.
I don’t want to be a party poop, but we have to acknowledge that we won’t be able to change the world just by writing to our MPs. Yes, I realise that this may be the easiest way to achieve “some” change, but what are our chances to bring in Real Feminism to our lives when most of our MPs are men, and (roughly) all of them support the current economic system?

"The attack on women’s reproductive rights"

Darinka Aleksic and Helen Collins opened my eyes to the reality of women’s reproductive rights. Or rather, the current attack on women’s reproductive rights.
I’ll be honest with you, the subject bores me slightly. The reason is quite… silly. I am a theory junkie: I like political arguments. And the “arguments” used to undermine abortion rights are more or less of the “nonsense ranting by people gone bananas” kind. That presents no challenge to my grey matter. So, I have more or less kept aside from the Grand Abortion Debate. Also, up to now, I believed the attack on Abortion was merely an example of Crazy American 'Sugar'.

Turns out, I was wrong. And the Crazy American Sugar has already made it to the British Isles. There are anti-abortion groups in this country spouting the same ranting nonsense as they do in the US.
This eye opening session taught me a lesson about how my mind works. I subconsciously seem to believe that once I “understand” a subject, the battle has been won, justice has been made and I can move on to other stuff. That may be a great strategy for “learning” things, but it’s a non-strategy for fighting for social justice. It will take a little bit more than me understanding how something works for that something to stop taking place in the real world. (Yes, I do live inside my mind, it’s a much happier place. I’m working on it.)

What could have worked better? I would have really liked some political “context”. I wanted to ask if anyone knew what motivates these people gone bananas into ranting nonsense. What is to them if a woman has an abortion or ten? Does anyone know why they care so much? Don’t they have cakes to bake, dogs to walk, children to read stories to, teacups to paint?
But there’s a bigger question that I don’t think anyone has tackled yet. Why do these groups get so much money? Yes, they are funded by the religious right, but why. Why is it in the interest of the Right to undermine abortion rights? WHY? Doesn’t make sense to me.

How the cuts are hitting women hardest” 

Another eye opening talk. I already knew the basics of this, but its sheer scale made me, and probably everyone else in the room, jump a mile high. I really appreciated Anna Bird's summary of the cuts as “ideological threats” (yay! Back to theory).
The talks by Sandhya Sharma (Southall Black Sisters) and Aisha Mirza were really inspiring. They reminded me once again (and I do need a lot of reminding) that even the smallest actions can lead to change, and that all it takes is one small step in the right direction.

What could have worked better? A bit more focus on Trade Union movement. Bird described these cuts as a “threat to employment protection, maternity rights and equality law”. Excellent. It would have been grate if she had kept on that track and framed these cuts around “class”. The best tool at women’s disposal for fighting the cuts is to join unions and strike; and strike good.


UK Feminista Summer School is not, and it should not be, about what “I want to hear”. The School helped me realise how easy it is, when doing feminism online, to just drift towards our favourite topics and forget the rest. Similarly, it’s easy to just fall back on a single mind groove (“I’ll wait for a Revolution”) and stay there. However, during a feminist conference, one has relatively little say over what others will talk about, or how they will frame the issues. This can backfire, of course, if it gets too “top down”. However, it can be a good thing if it opens our eyes to a reality we hadn’t seen before. It’s easy, in the internet world, to hover around a few “niche” issues, because we are most comfortable around them. Yet, every now and then, we have to come out of our comfort zone.

What could have worked better? 
*A more “bottom up” approach. Having a few sessions were activists just got together and talked to each other.
*More “political context”. The word “neoliberalism” was only articulated once in the whole day and I’m sad to report it was done by a man. There was a general lack of awareness of “how the world works”. Listening to all those amazing activists working hard to make things a bit better, I got this image in my head: “Feminist activists work on putting out the fires set off by men”. For instance, it is men who crash the world economy and it’s women who go out and care for the vulnerable and needy. I don’t like this set up. Putting out fires is all well and good but some of us should be sparing the occasional glance to those who are setting them off.
*More focus on “herstory”. 
*Also, class and race.
*An opportunity to “get to know one another” that is a bit more structured, so that we all participate. As opposed to “go out and talk to strangers whenever you can find the time”.
 *Also, I think UK Feminista could be clear on what their goals are. Is it supposed to be an “umbrella type organization”? If that’s the case, then it should work towards highlighting all kinds of feminism. There isn't a direct acknowledgement that UK Feminista's feminism is one of a multitude of feminisms. 
*I leave my bitchiest comment for the end. It would have been great if the “talks” had been overseen by the organizers beforehand. Just because the speaker has letters after her name and works within academia does not mean that their talk will be up to scratch. Or remotely related to “feminism” for that matter.

For a critique of the talk about "the men", don't miss MadamJ-Mo's post.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

My Experience at UK Feminista Summer School

Today I want to try something different. I want to write about my experience at UK Feminista Summer School on Sunday. But I don’t want to bring in politics, or pass judgement; at least not yet.

I only attended the School on Sunday. I went with a friend from Cardiff Feminist Network.

From the very beginning of the event, specifically during the “Welcome & Introduction” session, I felt disconnected from everyone else in the room. I am not entirely sure why. I was experiencing the familiar feeling that “everyone else is much better than me”. This meant that I was feeling quite low. And things only got worse.

Throughout the day I had to struggle with this feeling of “lowness” or depression. Everyone was smarter, prettier, more successful and more sociable. Everyone wanted to be with everyone else. Except me.

Lunchtime was Hell. The meal I had lovingly made for myself sucked. And all the other women were happily chatting away with all the other women. I was confronted, once again, with the cold, harsh reality that I am quite shy, and struggle to interact with strangers. I was unhappy. I felt as if all the other women had learnt something I never did: how to be happy and chat to complete strangers. So I remained on my own. I paced around the room on my own. And eventually ended up where most loners like me end up: behind books. It was high school, all over again.

After lunch I attended a talk titled “Activism in Theory and Practice: from research to the ‘real’ world”.
The word I used to describe the talk when taking notes was “crap”. Yes, it’s harsh, but that’s how I felt then. The talk made me feel unbelievably lonely because I could tell I was the most radical person in the room. This made me feel like a “black sheep”. It was as if I was standing on the other side of a pane of glass: I was next to everybody, but I just wasn’t “there”. Feelings of hopelessness and despair followed through. The experience left me wondering “why bother trying to be a political writer? It’s all a waste of time because I can’t get on with people”.

The talk was “crap” because the women who gave it belonged to the “fine” tradition of postmodernist thought, and were therefore quite careful not to think or, heaven forbid, give their opinion on anything. Yes, even though they were in a room full of feminists. Even though they were not “lecturing” us on anything, because we were not their students. They still tried to appear “objective”. Which meant, inevitably, that they spoke of nothing. That’s the essence of postmodernism right there. It appeared that nobody else but me could see that, however.

The non-lecturers asked us to form groups and discuss what they had brought up. Once again, just like high school. We went around saying our names and what we “did”. One woman from a “public sector/voluntary sector/good job helping people”, and three young women with glamorous student careers. When it got to me, I lost it. What was I supposed to say? “I am unemployed, have depression and dream of becoming a writer”? I was feeling too low even for that. So this is what I said “I sit at home and suffer”. Which is pretty accurate anyway. And I am nothing if not a drama queen.
Then, two more talks followed. “How the cuts are hitting women hardest” and “The global struggle: international feminist resistance”. The feelings brought up by the first talk only grew stronger with the second one. I felt decidedly unimportant compared with the women giving the talks. Their presence brought up feelings of resentment: they had nice jobs going around changing the world. And then they got to give talks to fellow feminists. I felt there was a hierarchical set up, and I was at the bottomest bottom. And I grew resentful because of it. The hierarchy seemed to say “these women have done worthy things, they spend their lives doing worthy things, that is why you should listen to what they have to say; and no, you have nothing worthy to say because you don’t spend your life doing worthy things”. In order to “defend” myself from this hierarchy, I had to remind myself that, worthy as these women’s deeds may be, they get paid to do them. That’s right: their feminist work is a full time job. Meanwhile, my feminism is done for free. So why should they have something worthy to say and not me?

These feelings are not pretty. These thoughts are less so. But that’s what I felt and that’s what I thought. My feelings and thoughts are what they are. I am not “blaming” anyone over them. My feelings are not “right” nor are they “wrong”. The thoughts I had were an attempt to counter very painful feelings.

If you wonder why the blazes I am writing about painful feelings of depression, social exclusion and inadequacy, I give you Brene Brown on courage

The root of the word courage is cor—the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage had a very different definition than it does today. Courage originally meant “To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.”
(...)  I think we’ve lost touch with the idea that speaking honestly and openly about who we are, about what we’re feeling, and about our experiences (good and bad) is the definition of courage
(...) Ordinary courage is about putting our vulnerability on the line. In today’s world, that’s pretty extraordinary.

(I'll try to write something a bit more positive on UK Feminista Summer School soon.)

Monday, 15 August 2011

"It's Not Fair"

Pat Bagley's editorial cartoon for The Salt Lake Tribune on Sunday, August 14, 2011

Richard Seymour (aka “Lenin”) has argued that the connecting thread behind the riots is “injustice”. I agree.

It is fascinating to observe how much can be connected by that single thread. But it’s particularly interesting when the thread is used to frame the desperate cries of the media.

“It is not fair!”, they all seem to say, before dwelling over the personal crisis of innocent “victims” of the riots.

“It’s not fair that 15 families had to see their business burn down. A business that had been in the family for generations, a business that survived the great depression and two world wars. I mean, why target them, eh? It’s not fair”.

“It’s not fair that three men were killed after they tried to protect their homes. Honestly, it wasn’t their fault, was it?”

“It’s not fair that so many people lost their homes because of arson attacks. These people lost everything! How can it make sense for members of the community to lose how little they had?”

“It’s not fair that small businesses were looted. The businesses of hard working people were vandalized. How can anyone justify that? These are members of the community”

You know what our answer to all these cries should be?


None of the above things are fair. But at the same time, there are other many things that are not fair.

It is not fair that young black men are stopped and searched twenty times in one month because their skin makes them suspect of criminality in the eyes of the police.

It is not fair that poor youths about to enter the labour market cannot find jobs that will support them. I mean, people who have never had a stake in the labour market cannot, in all conscience, be blamed for what has happened with the labour market.

It is not fair that people born in poverty have no chance of escaping poverty.

It is not fair that young people will never be able to afford higher education.

It is not fair that people die under police custody and nobody is charged.

It is not fair that some severely ill people see their disability benefits cut because they are deemed “fit enough to work”.

Some media heads have pointed out that the reason given by the rioters for their rioting was “because we can”.
That’s it. Those in power inflicting “injustice” on everyone else are also doing it “because they can”.

If those in power have no higher purpose for their actions other than “because we can”, why should we expect any different from the poorest, most desperate and most vulnerable members of society?

Similarly, if the richest people in the country are not “fair”, why should the poorest be?
If society is run under the premise of “it’s not fair”, why should we be surprised when things turn out to not be fair?
A society that breeds injustice should not be surprised to find injustice.

The riots are not a revolution. Rioters are not trying to replace our current system with a “fairer one”.

Riots are a continuation of the theme of injustice, which has become acceptable and par the course, so long as it flows mainly in one direction.

So when somebody from the media cries out that the riots are “not fair”, our response should be “No, it’s not fair. That’s precisely the problem.”

The answer to injustice, of course is, “justice”. But for that you need a Revolution.

(Note: It’s interesting to notice how journalists pick on the examples of poor, hard working people being affected by the riots as evidence of “unfairness” on the part of the rioters. What they are NOT SAYING, and not saying very loudly, is: “If the rioters had only targeted the rich, then it would have been fair”. It’s a lie, of course: when people do target the rich the media still blames them. But another response to these journalists pushing the whole “rioters were mean to fellow poor, brown people” could very well be: “so you’re saying that if rioters had only targeted rich, white people, it would have been justifiable?. At which point I can easily imagine the journalist squirming in their seats.)

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

"Talking Rubbish"

A microcosm of the reasons behind the riots appeared on public telly last night, apparent to anyone with a caring heart and some attention to detail.

A young black man talking about laws on “joint enterprise laws” and their effects on young and poor people. A white woman interrupts him (and apologizes to the presenter for doing so) and says that he’s “talking rubbish”.

Talking rubbish. No “you’re misguided” or “that’s incorrect, wrong, inaccurate”. No. The black man was “talking rubbish”. Afterwards, when the other young man from an ethnic minority was talking, she went on “I’ve never heard so much rubbish”.

And while the two white, middle aged (most certainly middle class) people on the panel took turns to present rioters as “vile people”, “thugs” and “scumbags” who need discipline, and then proceeded to cry out for their mothers to interfere, the black man tried to remind them that “they are still part of society”. 

The white woman would have none of it. She could be heard saying “they are not part of my society”.

This is it. This is precisely what is going on. White people from privileged backgrounds refusing to acknowledge rioters as members of their society, going so far as to deny that they are “human”. I probably don’t need to remind the world of what happens when a group of people is considered “less” than human.

There is such a thing as basic human decency. And it’s possible to disagree while remaining civil. However, dismissing another person’s words as nothing but “rubbish” shows a deep seated lack of respect and an inability to grant the other person the same level of worth one would grant a member of their own class or race.

Poor black people try to explain, and rich white Britain doesn’t want to listen. It’s all “rubbish”. It comes from the mouths of poor people; black people. Worthless people.

Would Ms White Middle Class Woman have dared to say to a Rich White Man that he’s talking “rubbish”? I personally happen to think that Jeremy Paxman talks rubbish on an almost constant basis, but I would stop at saying that to his face.

What astonishes me is how nobody seems to have picked up on this word. The lack of respect towards the most vulnerable in society is so great that a white woman can say to a black man to his face that he’s “talking rubbish” on public television and nobody bats an eyelid.  

The name of the black man, a student, is Yohanes Scarlett. I won’t do Ms White Middle Class Woman the courtesy of writing down her name. She’s not part of “my” society.

Before I leave, I want to say this. If there is one good thing that has come from the riots is witnessing people from poor backgrounds being so spot on. It’s been a while since I saw so much common sense on the telly. While it is heartbreaking that it has taken violence and riots for the media to shine its light upon the dispossessed and broadcast their voices, it is truly inspiring to realise that they know precisely what is going on, why and what needs to change.

The Revolution is round the corner.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Dear Britain...

At first I was surprised, perhaps even slightly amused.

Now I stare in disbelief. My brain struggles to accept the reality of what I see. Riots? In London???
I have never seen or heard of anything as grave as what is taking place in "the City" today.

There were riots in my home country once. They lasted one day. People targeted supermarkets mostly, and took food. There were no fires. Those of us with a critical eye suspected they must have been coordinated somehow by the opposition, seeing as how they broke out on the same day, all around the country and seemingly out of nowhere.

If what is happening in London had taken place in my home country, the whole world, my people included, would have said “third world country, what do you expect”.

And yet, looking at poor people in London, with their dark skins, their poor housing, their broken neighbourhoods, their ordinary clothes… I could easily fool myself and see any impoverished, suburban neighbourhood in Latin America.

But this is not Latin America. This is the capital of one of the richest nations on Earth. The birthplace of the industrial revolution. The living proof that capitalism doesn’t end poverty.

In Latin America, we have the excuse of poverty. When something bad happens, when the poor are really poor, we can comfort ourselves by saying “we are a poor country, there isn’t much we can do”.

But there is plenty Britain could do. This country has just spent 9.5 billion pounds in preparing itself for the “Olympics”.

Dear Britain.

Thank you for showing your human self. Humans react when provoked. And it’s a relief to discover that despite centuries of indoctrination and “civilization”, you can respond to the violence done upon you.

Thank you for proving Theresa May wrong. I sincerely wished you hadn’t had to resort to this. I’d like to believe I tried to stop things getting to this point. I promise you I’ll carry on working so that you will never see yourself in this situation again.

I wish you the strength and compassion to see yourself as you are, take responsibility for what you have become and heal yourself accordingly.



Thursday, 4 August 2011

The Divide Between "Reform" and "Change"

I’m beginning to notice a “divide” in the dissident movement, between the boomers and generation X (for lack of a better word), between those with jobs in the public and voluntary sector, and those who have only known the “private” one, between those who have made quite a nice middle class living through a job that consists of “making society better” and those whose jobs have only involved making shareholders wealthier, who have no hope in Hell of a middle class livelihood, and who don’t believe this system is redeemable.

I want to explore this because if such a divide does exist, I believe it is better to prepare ourselves for it so we deal with it better.

In essence this divide takes looks like this: while the boomers want reform, calling out for using existing institutions to make things better, generation X either wants a radical overhaul of society or nothing.

This may very well be caused by the differences between the old and the young. But is there more to it than that? I have noticed it doesn’t always take the form of “old” vs “young” but rather “person employed in the public sector” vs “person who has only worked in call centres”.

I was reminded of this divide once again yesterday, during a social gathering with fellow feminists. I noticed those discussing their jobs with pride and joy, jobs which consisted of “doing very worthy things for society”, while others remained suspiciously quiet. I was amongst the latter. Working part time for Evil Coffee Company on the minimum wage is not something that brings me (or my mother) either pride or joy. It is also something which most certainly does not consist of a “very worthy thing for society”. If anything, the opposite is true.

Today this “divide” showed up in the form of a post inLiberal Conspiracy, on the topic of people’s low trust for public institutions. From the title alone I could tell that the author must be middle aged. She was. I have never heard a young person wondering why the public doesn’t trust the institutions in our society. Compared with what we have to face in our daily lives “trust” is the least of our worries.

So while middle aged, middle class public sector workers ask “how do we improve the system we have so that it works better for people”, young dissidents go on a mad one and ask “smash the damn system!”. Or they remain entirely apathetic; one extreme or the other.

I seems to be the case that older dissidents working “inside” the system, believe it to be a possible force for good. And believe it has been a force for good. However, for those people “outside” of the system, who have neither benefited from its good deeds, nor have contributed to it, the “system” is an alien entity that must be ignored or gotten rid off. In short, we can’t work with it. It never gave us anything, it has never come to us asking for our opinion, why should we even consider it when trying to build an alternative?

This attitude is dangerous. The public sector may be under attack; it may be dwindling away; it may have been out of its depth for the past few decades. But it’s still there, and ignoring it won’t help. It may be a crap ally, but it is the only ally we have in an otherwise very corrupt system.
Similarly, it may not be very wise to put all our eggs in the public sector basket. The public sector is, at the end of the day, a grand collection of plasters. It does contain the torrent of pain and misery that the system would otherwise inflict but it can’t stop it.

The solution may lie somewhere in the middle. If the goal is to help people who are suffering, the first port of call should be meeting their most urgent demands. That is something the public and voluntary sector can do. However, in order for things to really change, in order to capture the hearts of people, we need to keep waving the flag of radical political reform. Revolution. Socialism. You name it. In the face of universal suffering a bit of reform here and there won’t do.

As always, it all starts with compassion. (I believe this will be the sentence I shall use the most in my whole “career”). I would greatly appreciate it if middle aged, middle class people could try to imagine what it must feel like for a struggling young person in today’s world. I know they can do it.
Last year a 40 year old man working with young people said to me, very plainly, that things are “sh*t” for young people, there’s nothing for them. And it’s true. A young woman working with homeless people said that banks, when dealing with crisis loans, “treat you like a piece of sh*t”.

I know for a fact that working in the public sector does not automatically blind people to the reality of the dispossessed. Yet it must be said that those two public sector workers I mentioned were members of the Socialist Workers Party, an organization that, for all its defects, keeps the fine tradition of rebelling against the economic and political system alive.

The current system has failed us, or we wouldn’t be in the position we are in at the moment. Improving people’s lives momentarily is a very noble goal. But if we want to radically change society, we need to go back to political struggle. Except for those who have never left.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Buying and Not Buying - A Cheap and Cheerful Respone to Market Fundamentalism

The easiest and quickest way to challenge the “people buy it” is to believe in a higher moral authority. What do I mean? I mean an authority that can say “This is wrong no matter how many people buy it”. If you believe in God, you are sorted *. There are lots of things God is opposed to, despite most people wanting to do them because "they are bad for people".

If you believe in an alternative to God, be it Goddess, Universe, life energy, the Creator, then you are good to go as well. Because all of these entities know better than us humans what is “right” and what is “wrong”, what is “good” and what is “bad”, it becomes much easier to say “yes, lots of people buy it, but that doesn’t make it good”.

This idea of questioning the will of the majority doesn’t sit well with our social democratic values. If you are squirming in your seat as you read this, comfort yourself that what you are experiencing is entirely normal. We have come to accept that “lots of people buying it” means that the product bought and the business that makes it must be good. It’s a sort of democracy through purchasing. Facing the statements “people buy it” or “the majority of people in society buy it” and replying “that doesn’t make it ok” is a difficult thing to do. And yet, you may have noticed, people still do it. Why?

Because no matter how much we are told that these products are good, there remains something in our heart of hearts that knows better. This should be enough to convince everyone that humans have an inbuilt moral compass. People can still tell when something is wrong, even if we are all blindingly doing it. For the record, market fundamentalists don’t believe in either God or a moral compass. Yes, it is precisely because it works against their interests. (And yes, it has a lot to do with what the Rich West is doing to Muslims.)

What you have to do in short is to stand up and call “foul” on something that is (seemingly) popular. It’s easier if you have a God/Creator to fall back upon. If you don’t, then trust your moral compass. But you will need this strength in order to question the system.

Focusing on the Absence of Competition

Now, I’m going to share with you a little trick that I use to deal with the towering force of “people buy it”. Here it is: “it doesn’t matter if people buy it; what matters is whether they can make an alternative”. (The phrasing may need some reworking). In other words: it doesn’t matter if people buy something because, at the end of the day, they can’t compete with it. People cannot open an alternative to Tesco, for instance. Small businesses have been “priced out”. This is unfair competition.

The strength of this argument lies in the fact that you are shedding light to this other side of the “market” equation. Nobody wants to bring this up because the whole illusion that “things are fine they way they are” would come crashing down. So whenever market fundamentalists talk about “people buying, businesses prospering and bad businesses dying out”, they conveniently forget to mention this other bit of their theory. That for “good businesses to prosper and bad businesses to die out” there must be more than one business.
The way their theory is actually defined, when you look into it, is “people open a business and sell X; but if someone else opens another business and sells better X, then the previous business either goes bust or finds a way to improve its X”.
And here is the reason why, even to their standards, our current system does not look like what they advocate: nobody can open a business and compete with the giants. Nobody can open a business and sell better “X”. Nobody can open a grocery shop and sell better products at cheaper prices than Tesco. Nobody can compete with the high street fashion labels, which ship their production to Thailand to pay less in wages. Nobody can compete with giant providers like “Sky” or “Virgin”.
And when nobody can compete with the giants, people have no choice but to work for them and buy their stuff.

Without a good amount of competition, even by the rules of the “free market”, there is no way for bad businesses to go “bust” because a better business has come along. Only fellow giants can compete with each other. Tesco and Asda can be rivals (and when you look into it, you find that they aren’t), but it would be pretty impossible for you or me to open a grocery store and stand a chance against them.

So when people talk about “people buy it”, what we should ask is “yes, but what are their changes in making something different?”.

You find that the bigger the giants gets, the smaller “we” get in return. And the smaller the competition, the worse the products being sold in the market. The giants can quite literally get away with selling us whatever they want, and we have to shut up because, what are we going to do?

This response to why “people buy it” is far from ideal. It is handy when you need to come up with a reply in a short space of time, but it won’t do to challenge the whole economic system. But it's a start.

* There are a good number of Christian socialists and Islamic socialists who go back to the teachings of either Christ or Muhammad and conclude (shockingly!) that their prophet was all about equality and sticking up for the poor. Similarly with Judaism, though minus the prophet.